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Palmer v. Kovacs

May 16, 2006

NANCY A. PALMER, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
KALEENA KOVACS AND STEVEN KOVACS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
NANCY A. PALMER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
KALEENA KOVACS AND STEVEN KOVACS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, MONL-5544-01.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sabatino, J.S.C., (temporarily assigned).

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued January 18, 2006

Remanded February 6, 2006

Resubmitted March 9, 2006

Before Judges Skillman, Axelrad and Sabatino.

As we noted in our opinion dated February 6, 2006, the present appeal and cross-appeal raise multiple issues arising out of a final judgment entered in favor of plaintiff following a four-day jury trial of this automobile accident case in August 2004. In our first opinion we affirmed the trial court's denial of summary judgment to defendants under the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act of 1998 ("AICRA"), N.J.S.A. 39:6A-8, given the sufficiency of plaintiff's injuries and corresponding medical proofs to surmount the AICRA verbal threshold. We also remanded the case to the trial judge for an amplified statement of reasons pursuant to R. 1:7-4(a), more fully expressing his rationale for denying defendants' motion for a new trial or, alternatively, for the remittitur of the jury's $460,000 damages award.

We have since received and reviewed a transcript of the trial judge's amplified statement of reasons, in which he reaffirmed his original denial of defendants' post-trial motion and further explained his basis for that disposition. With the benefit of that submission, we now address defendants' appeal on that particular issue. We also resolve the remaining appellate issues, which concern the trial court's award of counsel fees and other sanctions pursuant to the offer-of-judgment rule, R. 4:58, and its calculation of the supersedeas bond defendants were required to post on appeal pursuant to R. 2:9-6.

Briefly, this case involves an intersection accident on April 10, 2000 in which an automobile driven by plaintiff Nancy Palmer, who was then age twenty-three, was struck by a vehicle operated by defendant Kaleena Kovacs. The force of the collision caused plaintiff's airbag to deploy. Plaintiff sustained neck and back injuries, as reflected by MRI studies and medical examinations, which persisted for more than two years following the accident. Summary judgment on liability was granted in favor of plaintiff.*fn1 The ensuing trial solely addressed damages, and plaintiff's proofs included no claims for economic loss. The jury awarded her $460,000 for past and prospective pain and suffering.

We now affirm the denial of the defendants' motion to set aside or remit the verdict, modify the trigger dates used by the trial court in shifting fees and other allowances to plaintiff under R. 4:58, and affirm the trial court's calculation of the requisite supersedeas bond pending further proceedings.

I.

[At the direction of the Court, the published version of this opinion omits Part I, which addresses defendant's motion to set aside the verdict on grounds of excessiveness, and Part III, which addresses the calculation of the supersedeas bond posted pending appeal. See R. 1:36-3.]

II.

We next address plaintiff's cross-appeal seeking to modify the trial court's calculation of fees, costs and prejudgment interest pursuant to ...


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