On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-193-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Yannotti and LeWinn.
Defendant Mary J. Grasberger appeals from a judgment, entered after a bifurcated trial, upon a jury verdict finding her 70% liable to plaintiff Dennis Monahan for injuries he sustained in an automobile accident on July 5, 2002, and a second verdict requiring her to pay plaintiff $450,994 in damages.*fn1 Grasberger raises several claims of error in the liability trial and two claims of error in the damages trial. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that none of these contentions warrants reversal of the jury verdict and, therefore, we affirm.
On July 5, 2002, Monahan accompanied Diana Perks to a Honda dealership on Route 88 in Lakewood, New Jersey, where Perks was to leave her car for service. The dealership had arranged for Perks to have a rental car provided by defendant Elrac, Inc. (Enterprise), while her car was being serviced. An Enterprise employee, defendant Alex Duggan, picked up Monahan and Perks at the Honda dealership to transport them to the nearby Enterprise rental office. Perks sat in the front passenger seat and Monahan sat directly behind her. In order to turn left onto Route 88 towards the Enterprise location, Duggan had to cross a lane of westbound traffic.
In the liability trial, Monahan and Duggan described the accident as follows. Traffic had backed up from a traffic light past the dealership exit. A driver in the line of traffic stopped to allow Duggan to cross in front of him to make the left turn. As Duggan began exiting the dealership parking lot, Grasberger, who was attempting to pass the line of traffic on the right shoulder of the highway, crashed into Duggan's car. Grasberger's car then careened into another vehicle.
Monahan testified that he was still buckling his seatbelt at the time of impact. He saw Grasberger approaching and yelled to Duggan to stop. Monahan then put his arms around Perks in the front seat. According to Monahan, the front of Duggan's car "disintegrated" upon impact with Grasberger's vehicle. Monahan testified that his legs crashed into the center console when the cars collided.
Grasberger testified that she was driving westbound on Route 88 at approximately forty miles per hour with no traffic when Duggan suddenly emerged from the Honda dealership driveway. Grasberger stated that she swerved but could not avoid hitting Duggan's car.
In the damages trial, Monahan testified that he declined medical attention at the accident scene. The following day, however, Monahan sought medical treatment at a hospital emergency room in Lakewood. He complained of injuries to his knee, neck and back. Monahan stated that he received "horrendous" care in the emergency room and went to see his family doctor in New York two days later.
Monahan had an MRI of his left knee pursuant to his family doctor's order on July 13, 2002. Monahan then brought the MRI film to his orthopedist, Dr. Gregory Charko, who examined his knee.
Monahan described the condition of his knee as "unstable," as it would "just give out" when he walked. Dr. Charko informed Monahan that the "anterior cruciate ligament [ACL] was torn and the knee [was] shot, [and it was necessary to] put in [an artificial] knee."
Monahan underwent knee replacement surgery in March 2003. Post-surgical complications arose and the prosthesis was later removed by Dr. Paul Lombardi in June 2004. At that time, Dr. Lombardi inserted a spacer for seven weeks to clear up infection; during this period Monahan was confined to a rehabilitation hospital. Dr. Lombardi then implanted a second prosthetic knee. Monahan suffered several complications with the second prosthetic device and underwent two additional surgeries, the last of which took place in June 2005.
Monahan also testified that he had suffered injuries while employed as a police officer in Newburgh, New York. As a result of those injuries, Monahan stated that he received a police pension upon his departure from the force in 1984.
Monahan further testified that he had injured his back while working for Continental Airlines and underwent three surgical procedures to treat that back injury. As result of the injury and surgeries, Monahan was declared eligible for Social Security Disability benefits in 1994.
Monahan acknowledged that he had undergone six surgeries on his left knee prior to the July 2002 car accident. He claimed that he had experienced improvement in his knee following the last surgery in 2000. However, he did acknowledge that in 2002 he continued to suffer from knee pain and tenderness. Monahan had been taking four different medications for pain prior to the accident.
Monahan testified that between the 2000 surgery and the July 2002 accident, he had been able to ice skate and play soccer occasionally. Both Monahan and his former girlfriend, Denise Novickij, testified that Monahan had fixed Novickij's roof and had done other work on her residence. Monahan stated that after the July 2002 accident he was no longer able to engage in such activities.
Because Monahan was seeking damages related only to his knee injury, he brought an in limine motion to preclude medical testimony on his prior back and neck injuries. The judge reserved decision and then granted the in limine motion during ...