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Porras v. Township of Irvington

May 7, 2009

CHANTEL PORRAS AND ROY PORRAS, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF IRVINGTON, TOWNSHIP OF IRVINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT, OFFICERS AND CREW OF ENGINE NO. 43 OF THE TOWNSHIP OF IRVINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND EUGENIA PORRAS, PROSSER INDUSTRIES, INC., (DIVISION OF PUREX INDUSTRIES, INC.), DEFENDANTS.
CHANTEL PORRAS AND ROY PORRAS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF IRVINGTON, TOWNSHIP OF IRVINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT, OFFICERS AND CREW OF ENGINE NO. 43 OF THE TOWNSHIP OF IRVINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND EUGENIA PORRAS, PROSSER INDUSTRIES, INC., (DIVISION OF PUREX INDUSTRIES, INC.), DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-6499-03.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted March 10, 2008

Decided May 28, 2008.

Remanded by the Supreme Court January 26, 2009.

Resubmitted April 8, 2009

Before Judges S. L. Reisner, Gilroy and Baxter.

This is a supplemental opinion to our prior unreported consolidated decision, Porras v. Twp. of Irvington, Nos. A-0814- 06 and A-0855-06 (App. Div. May 28, 2008), certif. granted and summarily remanded, _____ N.J. _____ (2009). Because the procedural history and statement of facts were discussed at length in our prior opinion, it is unnecessary for us to detail them here. However, the following summary will place this opinion in context.

On August 5, 2001, plaintiff Chantel Porras suffered a severe electrical shock when she attempted to move an electrical water pump that had been left in the basement of her mother-in- law's home by members of defendant Township of Irvington Fire Department. Chantel, along with her husband, Roy Porras, filed a personal injury negligence/products liability complaint against defendants Township of Irvington, the Township of Irvington Fire Department, and unnamed officers and crew of Engine No. 43 (collectively, the "Township"); Eugenia Porras, Chantel's mother-in-law; and Prosser Industries, Inc., the manufacturer of the water pump.

On September 24, 2004, Eugenia Porras and Prosser Industries, Inc., were dismissed on summary judgment. On October 21, 2005, partial summary judgment was entered against the Township on the issue of liability. Tried to a jury, Chantel was awarded $5,000,000 against the Township, and the jury returned a verdict of no cause of action against her husband on his per quod claim.*fn1

On July 28, 2006, the Township filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), or in the alternative, for a new trial. On August 25, 2006, the trial court entered an order, supported by an oral decision, denying the motion for JNOV and for a new trial, but granting a remittitur of the jury verdict to $1,000,000. Following plaintiff's acceptance of the remittitur, an amended order of judgment was entered on September 28, 2006, in the remitted amount.

The Township appealed from the denial of its motion for JNOV, or in the alternative for a new trial. Plaintiff appealed from the grant of the remittitur. We affirmed the denial of the JNOV in the Township's appeal; reversed the grant of the remittitur, and reinstated the jury verdict of $5,000,000 in plaintiff's cross-appeal; and remanded to the trial court to enter an amended order of judgment in accordance with our opinion.

On a petition for certification, the Township raised the question of whether we "wrongfully exceeded the established standard of review" in reversing the trial court's grant of the remittitur by "undermining a trial court's settled authority to reduce excessive verdicts." On January 26, 2009, the Court granted the Township's petition and summarily remanded the matter for our reconsideration in light of the Court's recent decision in Jastram v. Kruse, 197 N.J. 216 (2008). On remand, we invited and received supplemental briefs from the parties addressing the issues of the quantum of damages and remittitur, to which we now turn.

The Township argues that we improperly exceeded our standard of review of the trial court's grant of the remittitur by weighing the evidence and by not giving the trial judge's "feel of the case" proper ...


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