parked, climbed a tree, fell out of the tree, rolled into the
river and drowned. See id.
"Ordinarily questions of proximate cause are left to the jury
for its factual determination," Yun I, 276 N.J.Super. at 160,
647 A.2d 841 (Gaibaldi, J., dissenting), however "[w]here the
outcome is clear, there is no reason to put the parties or the
court to the burden of atrial." Rena, Inc. v. T.W. Brien,
310 N.J. Super. 304, 332, 708 A.2d 747 (N.J.Super.App. Div. 1998).
"Proximate cause will be decided as a matter of law when `highly
extraordinary events or conduct tak[e] place.'" Yun II, 143
N.J. at 163, 669 A.2d 1378. Thus, if I find that no reasonable
jury could conclude that Jakelsky's claimed damages were a
foreseeable result of Dr. Friehling's alleged negligence, then I
must grant summary judgment. See id. ("When injuries resulting
from negligence are not foreseeable, there can be no finding of
B. The Three Acts of Alleged Malpractice
For the sake of clarity, I will consider Dr. Friehling's motion
for summary judgment separately with respect to each alleged act
1. Alleged Delay in Diagnosis
Jakelsky has asserted a claim of medical malpractice against
Dr. Friehling, alleging that her failure to diagnose his Wilson's
Disease in a timely manner caused physical and emotional damages,
and, in some way contributed to the automobile accident on July
13, 1995, that involved Jakelsky and David Logar. Dr. Friehling
argues that Dr. Schilsky cannot testify with a reasonable degree
of medical certainty that Dr. Friehling's alleged failure to
diagnose Jakelsky more timely caused the car accident. I find, as
a matter of law and of logic, that no one could testify that Dr.
Friehling's alleged failure to diagnose Jakelsky in a timely
manner caused the automobile accident. More specifically, once
Dr. Friehling did diagnose Jakelsky as suffering from Wilson's
Disease, any damages caused by the failure to do so in a timely
manner ceased to accrue. Once Jakelsky knew that he had Wilson's
Disease and informed Siemens of his condition, both Jakelsky and
Siemens were able to take any actions necessary to remedy or
prevent any future injuries. Thus, upon diagnosis, any injuries
that Jakelsky suffered because he did not know that he had
Wilson's Disease, and could not so inform his employer, ceased to
accrue. In other words, Dr. Friehling's alleged failure to
diagnose Jakelsky with Wilson's Disease in a timely manner cannot
possibly have proximately caused any injuries that accrued after
a diagnosis was provided.
By contrast, if Jakelsky can prove at trial that Dr. Friehling
was negligent, then he will have the opportunity to demonstrate
that the delay in diagnosing his condition caused any of his
injuries that accrued from February 25, 1994, the time that
Jakelsky first consulted with Dr. Friehling, until April 7, 1995,
the day on which Dr. Friehling diagnosed Jakelsky with Wilson's
Disease. Accordingly, I will grant Dr. Friehling's motion for
summary judgment with respect to all of Jakelsky's allegations
that he suffered injuries after April 7, 1995, resulting from Dr.
Friehling's delay in diagnosing Jakelsky's condition.
This conclusion also resolves, in part, the issue of Jakelsky's
settlement with Siemens with respect to any damages that may have
resulted from Dr. Friehling's alleged delay in providing a
diagnosis. Before Dr. Friehling informed Jakelsky that he had
Wilson's Disease on April 7, 1995, both Jakelsky and Siemens were
unaware of Jakelsky's medical disability. As a result, neither
Jakelsky nor Siemens could have taken any steps to prevent or
remedy any of the workplace difficulties that Jakelsky
experienced before April 7, 1995. Thus, Dr. Friehling is solely
liable for any injuries accruing before April 7, 1995, which
Jakelsky can prove resulted from her alleged failure to diagnose
him with Wilson's Disease in a timely manner.
Because Siemens did not, and could not, know that Jakelsky had
Wilson's Disease during the period from February 25, 1994, to
April 7, 1995, it cannot be held liable as a joint tortfeasor for
this time period. Accordingly, I find that the Settlement and
entered into between Siemens and Jakelsky only released those
claims that accrued after April 7, 1995, when Siemens was on
notice that Jakelsky had Wilson's Disease. The Settlement
Agreement and Release, therefore, do not preclude Jakelsky from
recovering for any damages that accrued before April 7, 1995,
which could only have resulted from Dr. Friehling's alleged
failure to diagnose Jakelsky with Wilson's Disease in a timely
2. Releasing Jakelsky to Return to Work
Jakelsky alleges that Dr. Friehling negligently released him to
return to work on July 7, 1995, which resulted in "severe
employment consequences and a fatal automobile accident." JFPO at
Part III.B. In her motion for summary judgment, Dr. Friehling
argues that these damages were not a foreseeable result of this
alleged malpractice. See Brief in Support of Jane S. Friehling,
D.O.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, filed January 25, 1999, at
14. I agree.
As I stated above, the plaintiff must demonstrate that this
type of injury was a reasonably foreseeable result of the alleged
negligent act. In this case, it is reasonably foreseeable that
sending an emotionally unstable person to work could cause
tension and work-related problems. See Schilsky Dep. Tr. at
115-16 (explaining that the only problem with Dr. Friehling's
July 7, 1995, release was "that she had a question about
[Jakelsky's] emotional state"); see also Cowan v. Doering,
111 N.J. 451, 462, 545 A.2d 159 (1988) (holding that "there was a
foreseeable risk that plaintiff's [suicidal] condition, as it was
known to defendants, included the danger that she would injure
herself"). Dr. Friehling should, or did, know that Wilson's
Disease caused emotional problems. Even the most basic literature
about Wilson's Disease would have informed Dr. Friehling that the
disease commonly causes "psychiatric, or neurologic symptoms,"
including "depression and aggression." See, e.g., Wilson's
Disease Ass'n Int'l, About Wilson's Disease (visited January
21, 1999) <http://www.wilsonsdisease.org/aboutwilsons.html.>.
From this knowledge, Dr. Friehling could have easily predicted
that Jakelsky would suffer negative consequences in the
workplace, should he return while exhibiting psychiatric symptoms
of Wilson's Disease.
By contrast, it is "highly extraordinary", see Arvanitis v.
Hios, 307 N.J. Super. 577, 585-85, 705 A.2d 355 (1998) (quoting
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 435(2) (1965)), to imagine that
solely as a result of emotional distress, a person would have an
automobile accident. In other words, a reasonable person could
not predict that permitting an emotionally unstable person to
return to work would lead to a fatal car accident. Moreover, even
if Dr. Friehling had recommended that Jakelsky not return to
work, she would not likely have recommended that Jakelsky refrain
from driving simply because he seemed "anxious" and "labile."
Indeed, she did not so recommend, nor did she impose any
restrictions on his activities. Thus, even assuming that Dr.
Friehling was negligent in sending Jakelsky back to work on July
7, 1995, I find that it is not foreseeable that this decision
would lead to a fatal car crash.
Furthermore, Dr. Schilsky cannot even say that Dr. Friehling's
alleged negligence caused the car accident. Dr. Schilsky
testified in his deposition, that at best, he could conclude that
"there was damage to Mr. Jakelsky. And damage to Mr. Jakelsky
could be one of the events that had led to the automobile
accident[, but I] don't know for certain that . . . it did."
Schilsky Dep. Tr. at 262. Dr. Schilsky opined that Dr.
Friehling's alleged negligence caused the car accident, because:
[I]t's the old if you go back and you change a chain
in time do you cause a series of events to change
months and months later. And sometimes we never know
the answer. It's like Albert Finley's books with time
travel with reference to changing events, do we know
what the event that is changed will subsequently lead
Id. at 256. Proximate cause, however, does not permit the
Court, or the jury, to go back in time with the hindsight of a
time traveler. See Yun v. Ford Motor Co., 143 N.J. 162, 165,
669 A.2d 1378 (1996) ("`In a sense, in retrospect almost nothing
is entirely unforeseeable.'") (quoting Peck v. Ford Motor Co.,
603 F.2d 1240, 1246 (7th Cir. 1979)). Considering the
circumstances of this case, unaided by the wisdom and vision of a
time traveler, I find that Dr. Friehling's alleged medical
malpractice could not have foreseeably or proximately caused
Jakelsky's automobile accident. As a result, I will grant Dr.
Friehling's motion for summary judgment with respect to all
claims relating to the automobile accident. I will deny the
motion, however, with respect to workplace injuries that may have
resulted from Dr. Friehling's alleged negligence in sending
Jakelsky back to work on July 7, 1995. To state the obvious, in
an effort to prevent any confusion at trial, Jakelsky may only
claim at trial that Dr. Friehling's alleged negligence in sending
him back to work on July 7, 1995, caused injuries on July 7,
1995, or after. It would be illogical for Jakelsky to claim that
he was injured by any alleged medical malpractice before it
occurred. Therefore, consistent with my previous holding
regarding Dr. Friehling's alleged delay in diagnosing Jakelsky
with Wilson's Disease, I hold that Jakelsky can attempt to
recover for work-related injuries, if any, that accrued from
February 25, 1994 until April 7, 1995, and those injuries, if
any, that accrued from July 7, 1995 until July 13, 1995,
This holding requires that I further consider the effect of the
Settlement and Release entered into by Jakelsky and Siemens,
because both Siemens and Dr. Friehling may have been liable for
work-related injuries that accrued in the period from July 7,
1995, to July 13, 1995.
Under New Jersey law, a plaintiff may "`pursue all those who
are independently liable to him for his harm until one full
satisfaction is obtained.'" Fineman v. Armstrong World Indus.,
980 F.2d 171, 186 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting McFadden v. Turner,
159 N.J. Super. 360, 367, 388 A.2d 244 (N.J.Super.App. Div. 1978)).
Whether a plaintiff has been fully compensated by a settlement
"must await determination at trial during which relevant oral as
well as documentary evidence may be admitted." Breen v. Peck,
28 N.J. 351, 367, 146 A.2d 665 (1958). "The defendant bear[s]
the burden of proving that the release was intended to serve as
full compensation." Township of Wayne v. Messercola,
789 F. Supp. 1305, 1312 (D.N.J. 1992) (Lechner, J.) (under New Jersey
state law). Accordingly, Dr. Friehling will have the opportunity
to present evidence at trial that Jakelsky has already received
full satisfaction of all damages that he suffered, which accrued
between July 7, 1995, and July 13, 1995.
3. Allegedly Abandoning Jakelsky as a Patient
Jakelsky also claims that Dr. Friehling negligently abandoned
him as a patient as of July 7, 1995, when she informed Dr.
Patrognoni, but not Mr. Jakelsky, that she "[did] not see any
reason . . . to follow Tom [Jakelsky] any further in the office."
Letter from Dr. Friehling to Dr. Patrognoni, dated July 7, 1995.
There is no evidence in the summary judgment record, nor any
allegations in the Amended Complaint or in the Joint Final
Pretrial Order, suggesting that Jakelsky requested any treatment
after July 7, 1995, and was denied such treatment, or that Dr.
Friehling failed to provide some treatment between July 7, 1995,
and July 13, 1995, that she should have provided. Thus, I find
that even if Dr. Friehling did abandon Jakelsky as a patient on
July 7, 1995, Jakelsky has made no allegations, nor presented any
facts, to show that this abandonment had any impact whatsoever on
the subsequent events. Accordingly, I will grant Dr. Friehling's
motion for summary judgment with respect to all claims of
negligence resulting from Dr. Friehling's alleged abandonment of
For the reasons set forth above, I find that no reasonable jury
could determine that the fatal car crash was a foreseeable result
of any of Dr. Friehling's alleged acts of medical malpractice. In
addition, I find that no reasonable jury could find that Dr.
Friehling's alleged delay in diagnosing Jakelsky caused any
damages to accrue after Dr. Friehling provided a diagnosis on
April 7, 1995. Finally, I hold that there is no evidence in the
summary judgment record to suggest that Dr. Friehling's alleged
abandonment of Jakelsky
had any effect on the events that transpired in Jakelsky's life
through July 13, 1995, the last day he claims to have suffered
any injuries. As a result, I conclude that the alleged
abandonment could not have proximately caused any of the injuries
that Jakelsky alleges he sustained. Accordingly, I will grant Dr.
Friehling's motion for summary judgment with respect to: (1)
Jakelsky's claims of injury as a result of the automobile
accident; (2) all claims of injury that accrued after April 7,
1995, which allegedly resulted from Dr. Friehling's delay in
diagnosing Jakelsky's condition; (3) all claims of injury that
accrued before July 7, 1995, which allegedly resulted from Dr.
Friehling's decision to provide Jakelsky with a release to return
to work; and (4) all claims of injury allegedly resulting from
Dr. Friehling's alleged abandonment of Jakelsky as a patient.
Thus, Jakelsky is free to argue that he sustained work-related
injuries from February 25, 1994 until April 7, 1995, due to Dr.
Friehling's alleged failure to diagnose Jakelsky with Wilson's
Disease in a timely manner, and from July 7, 1995, to July 13,
1995, as a result of Dr. Friehling's allegedly negligent decision
to return Jakelsky to work.