On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County.
Antell and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by D'Annunzio, J.s.c., (temporarily assigned).
Plaintiff, Raymond W. Joy, was injured in an automobile collision while on duty as a Denville, N.J., policeman. Defendant is the operator of the car that struck plaintiff's police vehicle. Angelika Joy sues per quod. Liability was stipulated and the case was tried on damages. The jury awarded Raymond Joy $8,000 but awarded nothing to his wife. Plaintiffs' motion for a new trial was denied and they now appeal.
Plaintiffs' contention that the award was inadequate is without merit. There was conflicting medical testimony and the jury, in evaluating Mr. Joy's testimony regarding the nature and extent of his complaints, could have resolved the credibility issue against him. Evidence of the impact of Mr. Joy's alleged injuries on his wife was meager. The verdicts were not contrary to the weight of the evidence. Dolson v. Anastasia, 55 N.J. 2 (1969); Baxter v. Fairmount Food Co., 74 N.J. 588 (1977).
However, defense counsel's unwarranted interjection of workers' compensation into this case and the trial court's inadequate curative instruction on that issue compel us to reverse and remand for a new trial.
During cross examination of Dr. Tiger, plaintiff's treating physician, defense counsel asked the following question:
Q. Doctor, you wrote a letter to an Alice Swed, which is in your file, April 26, 1983. She's with the Workers' Compensation Department.
You wrote a letter pursuant to a letter she sent you? Is that true?
Questioning the doctor regarding a report written by him in connection with plaintiff's workers' compensation claim was appropriate. But only the content of the report was relevant. The fact that the addressee of the report was connected with workers' compensation was irrelevant and there was no lawful justification for defense counsel's reference to workers' compensation. We infer that defense counsel intentionally sought to impact plaintiff's standing with the jury by that irrelevant and prejudicial reference.
This court has recognized the prejudicial effect of a reference to workers' compensation. LaRocca v. Ench, 35 N.J. Super. 53 (App.Div.1955).
In our view, it is prejudicial to indicate to the jury that the plaintiff has or may have another remedy by way of workmen's compensation. This is particularly true in a case where there is a close factual issue as to whether the person whose negligent act caused the injury was an employee of the third person defendant or of the plaintiff's employer. In such a case a jury might very well be inclined to give less consideration to the ...