On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.
J.h. Coleman and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Coleman, J.h., P.J.A.D.
In this case involving an action for wrongful death and survival, the key issue raised is whether a notice of claim was given to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (Turnpike Authority) "within 1 year after the accrual of [the] claim" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 59:8-9. The trial court held that notice of claim should be permitted more than one year after the accident and death. We disagree and reverse.
The facts essential to our disposition are undisputed. On April 27, 1987, decedent Frank Iaconianni was involved in a multi-vehicular accident. Two tractor trailers that were operated by defendants Raymond E. Lord and Kent M. Montgomery
hooked bumpers as they proceeded north along the New Jersey Turnpike. Both trucks crashed through a guardrail. The tractor trailer that was operated by defendant Lord collided with Frank Iaconianni's vehicle that was travelling south along the New Jersey Turnpike. Frank Iaconianni died on May 25, 1987 as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.
Plaintiffs retained New York counsel on July 25, 1987 who instituted suit in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, on or about August 4, 1987. Thereafter, (the date is not revealed in the record), plaintiffs retained New Jersey counsel who filed a complaint in the present litigation on August 9, 1988 against all named defendants except the Turnpike Authority. Plaintiffs filed a motion on December 12, 1988 for leave to file a late notice of claim against the Turnpike Authority. In support of this motion, plaintiff relied upon the depositions of Daniel Meritz, an eyewitness to the accident, which were taken on November 16, 1988. He stated that the guardrail was "flattened like a pancake" and it "splintered like a toothpick" at the time of impact. This deposition testimony conflicted with the report of the state trooper who investigated the accident. He reported that the tractor trailers jumped the center guardrail.
The trial court granted the motion and stated the following reasons:
I'm going to grant the application on the basis that the plaintiff in this matter being deceased and the police report being misleading as to the condition of the guardrail, that the report . . that the knowledge did not accrue in the police . . and the claim was filed within the time limits of the accrual when counsel had knowledge.
While perhaps I would agree that New York counsel was not as diligent as perhaps it . . he or she should have been, I don't think under these circumstances that I would blame the plaintiff.
I suggest that we get [take an appeal] this up. Let's get a definitive decision as to whether I'm right or I'm wrong.
On this appeal, the Turnpike Authority argues that the judge was without jurisdiction to grant the motion because the causes of action accrued on ...