The issue in defendants' motion to bar certain expert testimony in this wrongful death action is whether evidence of the pecuniary losses of decedent's mother is admissible at the trial when the decedent is survived by a daughter.
The court holds that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4 (the wrongful death statute) and N.J.S.A. 3B:5-4 (the intestate succession statute), plaintiff, as administratrix ad prosequendum, may recover only the pecuniary losses suffered by the daughter of the decedent, who is her sole beneficiary. Therefore, testimony as to the pecuniary losses of decedent's mother is barred.
Diedre Jean Goodman, a 26-year-old unmarried female, died on April 14, 1987, allegedly as a result of medical malpractice, leaving her daughter, Bianca Goodman, age three, and her mother, Marcia Goodman.
Marcia Goodman, who filed this wrongful death action as administratrix ad prosequendum of the estate of Diedre Jean Goodman, served defendants with an economic loss report by Frank D. Tinari, Ph.D., estimating pecuniary losses from the
death of Diedre Goodman at $783,818. These include $286,253 in losses to the daughter and $497,565 in losses to the mother.
Defendants move, in limine, to bar testimony of plaintiff's economic expert concerning "Advice, Guidance and Counsel Services to Decedent's Mother" and "Companionship Services to Decedent's Mother" as set forth in his report.
Defendants claim that N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4 and N.J.S.A. 3B:5-4 make it clear that Bianca Goodman is the sole beneficiary under the wrongful death statute. Therefore, defendants contend that any pecuniary losses of decedent's mother are irrelevant and any reference thereto should not be admissible at the trial.
Plaintiff relies upon Eyoma v. Falco, 247 N.J. Super. 435, 589 A.2d 653 (App.Div.1991), as originally reported, to refute defendant's position because the trial court therein allowed testimony by the decedent's mother regarding her pecuniary losses as a result of her son's death despite the fact that he was also survived by two daughters, ages six and two. Plaintiff claims, therefore, that the original Eyoma opinion impliedly permits wrongful death claims on behalf of both an issue and a dependent parent who survived the decedent.
Plaintiff also claims that the order of distribution in the intestate succession statute, N.J.S.A. 3B:5-4, is neither controlling nor determinative in a wrongful death action. Plaintiff, relying on Jurman v. Samuel Braen, Inc., 47 N.J. 586, 222 A.2d 78 (1966), contends that, although the statute of distribution identifies the beneficiaries under the wrongful death statute, the beneficiaries take by virtue of the wrongful death statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4, which "gives the court wide discretion in arriving at a fair and equitable apportionment geared to a particular family situation and the individuals involved." Id. at 602, 222 A.2d 78. However, the court held that the proper measure of damages for a wrongful death is the pecuniary loss of the beneficiaries who were decedent's dependents and his
next of kin, who would have been solely entitled to take his personal property had ...