On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union and Bergen Counties.
Approved for Publication January 18, 1996.
Before Judges Baime, Villanueva, and Kimmelman. *fn1 The opinion of the court was delivered by VILLANUEVA, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: VILLANUEVA
The opinion of the court was delivered by
In these consolidated cases, *fn2 defendants appeal from various trial court orders confirming arbitration awards and denying defendants' untimely motions for trials de novo based upon defendants' claim of excusable neglect by an associate of the law firm defending the various insurance carriers who failed to handle the matters properly and failed to file for trials de novo. We affirm.
On November 10, 1992, plaintiff Sharyn Vaughn filed a complaint against defendants Rolando Cruz, Jr., Antonio C. Martins, Gelco Corporation, Continental Companies, Inc., d/b/a Sheraton Hotels and ABC Company, a fictitious entity. Ruvoldt & Ruvoldt (Ruvoldt) filed an answer and a cross-claim for contribution on behalf of Rolando Cruz. Judith A. Heim filed an answer andcross-claim for contribution on behalf of defendants Sheraton Hotels, Gelco Corporation, Continental Companies, Inc. and Antonio C. Martins.
On November 12, 1992, plaintiffs Teri Jean Green and Bruce Green, her spouse, Mary Theresa Dunn, Marcellina Seitz, Patricia L. Scott and Martina Gormley Roth filed a complaint against Sheraton Inn-Newark Airport, ITT-Sheraton, Antonio Martins, and Rolando Cruz, Jr., jointly and severally. Ruvoldt filed an answer and cross-claim on behalf of defendant Rolando Cruz.
On November 12, 1992, Antonio Martins filed a complaint against Orlando O. Cruz, Jr. Ruvoldt filed an answer on behalf of defendant Rolando Cruz, Jr. (incorrectly named as Orlando O. Cruz, Jr.).
Ruvoldt selected Morgan Hurley, *fn3 an associate in its office, to handle the defense of these three complaints which arose out of an automobile accident which occurred on November 15, 1990. On February 16, 1994, arbitration of all three actions was held, at which time defendant Cruz was found to be 100% liable. The arbitrator awarded Vaughn $12,500; Seitz $100,000; Scott $12,500; Dunn $75,000; Roth $12,500; Green $12,500; and Martins $250,000. The aggregate arbitration award of $475,000 exceeded Cruz's policy limits of $15,000/$30,000. Thereafter, Hurley, who had appeared at the arbitration hearings, failed to communicate with the insurance carrier Hertz Claim Management/EDS or take any other action in the case.
By notice of motion dated April 15, 1994, counsel for plaintiff Martins sought to confirm the arbitration award. Counsel for the remaining plaintiffs also filed similar motions. Ruvoldt filed across-motion for a trial de novo out of time and to consolidate the three actions.
On May 13, 1994, after hearing oral argument, Judge Beglin entered an order confirming the arbitration awards in the aggregate of $475,000 and denying defendant's cross-motion to file for a trial de novo out of time. The Judge, pursuant to R. 2:5-1(b), later filed a formal opinion with the Appellate Division. Judge Beglin found that Hurley's inattention "was a rather classic example of the 'neglectful attorney' syndrome described in Sprowl v. Kitselman, 267 N.J. Super. 602, 632 A.2d 540 (App. Div. 1993), ...