On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 235 N.J. Super. 384 (1989).
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Handler, J.
[122 NJ Page 236] Plaintiff, William Bandel, sued several physicians, hospitals, and a health-care institution for their negligence in diagnosing his condition, bacterial endocarditis. By the time of trial, all defendants except Dr. Charles Friedrich had settled with plaintiff or had been dismissed from the case. Finding negligence, the jury assessed Dr. Friedrich's fault at 20%, plaintiff's at 10%, and a second doctor's at 70%. It also awarded damages in the
amount of $720,000. The trial court molded the verdict, entering judgment against defendant for $144,000 (20% of $720,000) plus pre-judgment interest.
The Appellate Division affirmed the jury's determination of negligence but reversed the damages verdict, concluding that the trial court had erred in refusing to instruct the jury that the reasonable value of gratuitously provided services required for the care of plaintiff constituted an element of damages. It remanded the case for a trial on damages, holding that plaintiff is entitled "to recover the reasonable value of these necessary services provided without cost by a caring mother." Bandel v. Friedrich, 235 N.J. Super. 384, 391, 562 A.2d 813 (1989). We granted defendant's petition for certification on the questions of proximate cause and plaintiff's recovery for the reasonable value of gratuitously provided home-health care. 118 N.J. 196, 570 A.2d 960 (1989).
On our own motion, we consider initially the propriety of addressing the merits of the proximate-cause issue. With further consideration, we now conclude that in the context of this case the determination of that issue does not satisfy the standards of Rule 2:12-4. The judgments below reflect the application of established principles of proximate cause to an intensely factual situation, in no way implicating "an unsettled question of general public importance." In re Route 280 Contract, 89 N.J. 1, 444 A.2d 51 (1982). We also are not persuaded that the question requires invocation of "our certification authority in 'the interest of justice,'" because the result reached below "is not palpably wrong, unfair or unjust." Mahony v. Danis, 95 N.J. 50, 52, 469 A.2d 31 (1983) (Handler, J., concurring). Further, because this case does not present a conflict between the Appellate Division and "any other decision of the same or a higher court," R. 2:12-4, it similarly does not call for an
exercise of this Court's supervisory powers. We therefore vacate certification on the issue of proximate cause.
The evidence adduced at trial indicated that in May 1983, plaintiff, complaining of fever, chills, and lower abdominal pain, was examined and treated first by defendant and then by Dr. James Warren. Both physicians successively failed to order blood and urine cultures, which, according to plaintiff's experts, would have revealed the presence of bacteria. The jury reasonably could have determined, as it apparently did, that their combined failures resulted in a delayed diagnosis of bacterial endocarditis. Although it ultimately was diagnosed, the bacterial endocarditis invaded plaintiff's brain and mitral valve and necessitated two operations. Severe post-operative complications, including a stroke, ensued.
The complications rendered plaintiff permanently disabled to the extent that he requires twenty-four-hour care. He has only limited use of his right leg and no use of his right arm. He has difficulty communicating with others and cannot understand completely what others say to him. Although he can tend to some rudimentary needs such as basic bodily functions and has limited ability to move, plaintiff cannot cook or do laundry. He also should not shower without standby supervision and may need assistance to get out of bed and select clothing. He cannot be left alone in his dwelling. During the three-plus years preceding trial, plaintiff's mother, Bessie Bandel, almost exclusively had provided that care and supervision. Mrs. Bandel received no compensation for her assistance.
The trial court determined that home health-care services gratuitously rendered did not constitute an element of compensatory damages. Accordingly, it refused to permit plaintiff to offer expert testimony on the reasonable value of his mother's care, although it did allow plaintiff to introduce ...