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Katz v. Rahway Hospital

Decided: December 19, 1986.

FLORA KATZ AND PAUL KATZ, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
RAHWAY HOSPITAL, JOHN L. YODER, DIRECTOR OF RAHWAY HOSPITAL, ROBERT POHAMUS, DIRECTOR OF SECURITY OF RAHWAY HOSPITAL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Union County.

O'Brien and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Landau, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

Landau

This is an appeal by defendant Rahway Hospital from a judgment for $10,000 plus interest and costs rendered in favor of plaintiffs Flora and Paul Katz after jury trial on a negligence claim arising out of the mugging of Flora in the hospital parking lot after visiting hours.

The hospital contends that prejudicial error was committed during trial by reason of two evidence rulings by the trial judge, and further contends that if the verdict in favor of plaintiffs is permitted to stand, the court erred in molding the jury verdict against the hospital under N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-8 by reducing it to $10,000 and then adding interest and costs, rather than limiting recovery to $10,000, inclusive of interest and costs. We disagree, and affirm.

THE EVIDENCE RULINGS

During the trial, the hospital sought to demonstrate the reasonableness of its security precautions by offering proof of the extent of its total security expenditures compared to that of hospitals in the nation as a whole and to average expenditures in the State of New Jersey. These figures were offered on the basis of an expenditure per 1,000 square feet, but parking lots were not included in this square foot calculation. The trial judge declined to permit comparison of the expenditures with the various averages, because of the great differences between conditions in the respective communities. He did permit evidence of the hospital's security expenditures expressed as a percentage of its total budget. An offer of proof was permitted, and we are satisfied that the judge's ruling, evidently made under Evid. R. 4 (the court stated "therefore, it would be too prejudicial without any real basis") was a reasonable exercise of discretion with which we decline to interfere. Additionally, we note that the trial issue related to adequacy of security in the parking lot, and evidence respecting general expenditures for security with no indication of the

extent, if any, of parking lot security expenditures was of such dubious value as to warrant its exclusion on relevance grounds, Evid. R. 1(2), as well as Evid. R. 4 considerations.

The hospital also contends that it was unduly prejudiced by the trial judge's refusal to exclude the testimony of Gerald O'Rourke, who testified as an expert in security, because he was not qualified as an expert on hospital security, and had not consulted security guides expressly designed for hospitals.*fn1 There is no question, however, that Mr. O'Rourke was possessed of sufficient qualifications to be permitted to testify as a security expert, and it was for the triers of fact to determine what precautions were reasonable for the particular parking lot in which the incident occurred. In reviewing the record, we are satisfied that Mr. O'Rourke's testimony and opinion was properly submitted to the jury on this question. See Butler v. Acme Markets, 89 N.J. 270, 283 (1982); Rempfer v. Deerfield Packing Corp., 4 N.J. 135, 141 (1950). The jury was properly charged respecting expert testimony.

INTERPRETATION OF N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-8

N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-8 (L. 1959, c. 90, p. 222 ยง 2) was enacted following the landmark opinions in Dalton v. St. Luke's, 27 N.J. 22 (1958); Collopy v. Newark Eye and Ear Infirmary, 27 N.J. 29 (1958); and Benton v. Y.M.C.A., 27 N.J. 67 (1958). It provides:

Notwithstanding the provisions of the foregoing paragraph, any nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for hospital purposes shall be liable to respond in damages to such beneficiary who shall suffer damage from the ...


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