On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Before Judges Brochin, Wefing and Braithwaite.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wefing, J.A.D.
This case revolves around an automobile accident that occurred on September 18, 1991 shortly after 7:00 p.m. on Woodland Avenue in West Orange, New Jersey. The site of the accident was immediately in front of Montclair Riding Academy. Plaintiff Beverly Adamson, who had several horses stabled there, served as the volunteer leader of a 4-H club which met at the stables. On the date in question, she left a 4-H meeting and went to her car, a Range Rover, which she had parked facing westbound on the north side of Woodland Avenue.
Woodland Avenue runs in an east-west direction. When cars are parked on either side of the road, as they were that evening, there is room for one lane of travel in both directions. The lanes are divided by a double yellow line.
As she started to pull out of her parking space, she realized that she had left certain papers at the Academy that she needed. Rather than pulling back into the space she had just vacated, she decided to pull into the driveway of the Academy's main building and run into the office to retrieve the papers she needed. She proceeded in a westbound direction on Woodland Avenue for four to five car lengths until she pulled opposite to the driveway.
Some distance past the driveway, Woodland Avenue curves. The parties differed in their testimony as to the distance from the driveway to the curve. Plaintiff estimated 200 to 300 feet while defendant *fn1 said it was closer to 800 feet.
As plaintiff began her turn into the driveway, she saw defendant's car coming around the curve, heading eastward. She maintained she brought her car to a complete stop, with its left front portion approximately two feet over the double yellow line. The two cars collided. Defendant was driving a much smaller car, a Fiat, that went under plaintiff's Range Rover. The force of the impact moved plaintiff's car sideways approximately one and one-half feet and popped the rear seats out of their locked position.
Plaintiff estimated defendant's speed at fifty-five to sixty miles per hour. The posted speed limit on the road is twenty-five miles per hour. At trial, defendant maintained that he was driving twenty-five to thirty miles per hour and that plaintiff improperly made a left turn right in front of him.
Plaintiff contended that the force of the impact threw her body to the left side of the vehicle and that her head struck the door and the frame. She refused any medical assistance at the scene, however. After several days, she commenced an extended course of treatment with a chiropractor. When that did not provide relief, she went to an orthopedist, a neurosurgeon, a neurologist, two psychiatrists and a neuropsychologist. Her neurosurgeon, Dr. Hoppenstein, diagnosed a herniated disc in her cervical spine with spinal cord compression, for which he recommended surgery.
Within this lawsuit, plaintiff alleged that she also suffered a closed head injury which resulted in significant cognitive impairment that interfered with her ability to function either socially or at work. She had worked for years in the color lab business. Several months before the accident, she had started her own brokerage business, serving major companies that needed photographic and graphic services and the color labs that provided those services. She testified that in the nine months before the accident she had a net income of approximately $190,000. As a result of her cognitive deficits, however, she was no longer able to function in the same manner and her income therefore steadily declined to $58,000 by 1994. As of the trial, she testified she had only one client left.
At trial, she produced her psychiatrist, neurosurgeon and neuropsychologist. Defendant produced no medical evidence at all.
After a seven day trial, the jury found that defendant was negligent and proximately caused the accident. It found no negligence on the part of plaintiff. It awarded her $20,000 for non-economic damages, $80,000 for past lost wages and $500,000 for future lost wages.
Defendant has appealed and plaintiff has cross-appealed. After carefully reviewing the entire record in this matter, and considering ...