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Mohan v. Exxon Corp.

February 10, 1998

SHAWN MOHAN AND VASA MOHAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
EXXON CORPORATION, JOHNNY JONES, HUSKY COMPANY, ABC COMPANY (A FICTITIOUS NAME), GHI COMPANY (A FICTITIOUS NAME), JKL COMPANY (A FICTITIOUS NAME), MNO COMPANY (A FICTITIOUS NAME), PQR COMPANY (A FICTITIOUS NAME), STU COMPANY (A FICTITIOUS NAME), THUNDER NOZZLES, VWX COMPANY (A FICTITIOUS NAME), DEFENDANTS, EXXON CORPORATION, THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT,
v.
JOHNNY JONES, THUNDER NOZZLES, INC., SUBURBAN FIRE EQUIPMENT COMPANY, INC, AND TEN HOEVE BROTHERS, INC., THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS, AND HUSKY CORPORATION, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT/RESPONDENT. THUNDER NOZZLES, INC. FOURTH PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
QUALITY NOZZLES OF NEW JERSEY INC., FOURTH PARTY DEFENDANT. HUSKY CORPORATION, THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
TEXASGULF, INC., THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS.



Argued January 21, 1998 Before Judges Pressler, Conley and Carchman. On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: The opinion of the court was delivered by Carchman, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

[9]    The jury in this civil case returned a verdict but failed to respond to two written interrogatories which required answers to dispose of the remaining issues in the case. Nevertheless, the jury was dismissed and dispersed. Four days later the trial Judge reconvened the jury and instructed the jurors to respond to the two interrogatories. The jury resumed deliberations and reached a verdict. We hold on this appeal that the reconvening of the dismissed and dispersed jury was plain error, and accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial limited to the issues decided after reconvening the jury.

The relevant facts are not complex. On October 9, 1987, plaintiff Shawn Mohan (Mohan) was sixteen years old and employed by defendant Exxon Corporation (Exxon) to pump gasoline at a gasoline station owned and operated by Exxon. After pumping gasoline into a customer's automobile, Mohan was removing the hose to return it to one of the station's pumps when the metal "swivel" connecting the hose nozzle to the hose separated. This caused the nozzle to separate from the hose, which caused gasoline to discharge from the hose's open end and spray onto Mohan's clothing. After completing the sale transaction, Mohan walked toward the station's office to change out of his gasoline-soaked uniform. On the way, defendant Johnny Jones (Jones) a "bystander" on the station's premises, lit and threw a match at Mohan, setting his clothing on fire. Mohan was severely burned.

Mohan and Vasa Mohan, his father, sued Exxon and others. *fn1 Exxon settled with Mohan for $440,000, and Exxon continued its contribution action against Husky Corporation (Husky), which had designed and manufactured the swivel, and Thunder Nozzles, Inc. (Thunder or Thunder Nozzles), which had inspected the station's pumps on October 9, 1987. *fn2

On Friday, April 19, 1996, the jury returned its verdict by answering a nine-question verdict sheet. In answer to question nine, the jury apportioned 70% of the liability to Exxon and 30% to Jones. The jury, however, did not answer questions three and four, which addressed Exxon's design-defect claim against Husky.

The jury's verdict was taken by the court clerk. After responding to questions one through eight, excluding questions three and four, the jury foreperson announced the jury's answer to question nine:

COURT CLERK: On question number nine; what amount of liability do you attribute to Husky Corporation?

JURY FORELADY: Oh, percentages?

Yes.

JURY FORELADY: Husky zero.

COURT CLERK: As to Exxon Corporation?

JURY FORELADY: Seventy.

COURT CLERK: As to Thunder Nozzles?

JURY FORELADY: Zero.

COURT CLERK: As to ...


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