On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Docket No. L-822-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 23, 2009
Before Judges Graves, Lyons, and J. N. Harris.
Defendant appeals the denial of his motion for a new trial, for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and for a remittitur after a jury awarded plaintiff $400,000 in damages for injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The trial judge reduced the verdict to $150,000, which was accepted by plaintiff in lieu of a new trial on damages. Notwithstanding this relief from the verdict, defendant pursues his appellate remedies seeking a new trial on damages. We are unable to agree with any of defendant's arguments as to why the remitted verdict below deserves adjustment. Accordingly, we affirm.
On April 8, 2004, plaintiff and defendant were involved in an automobile accident that left plaintiff with complaints concerning his shoulders, back, neck, and left knee. Plaintiff previously was involved in automobile accidents in 1966, 1987, and 1994, all of which were known to defendant and explored at length through the discovery process.
Plaintiff had initiated litigation regarding the 1994 accident, which involved injuries to some of the same parts of the body that plaintiff claims were injured in the 2004 incident. Plaintiff settled his claims that revolved around the 1994 accident several years ago. Here, the parties fully explored - or had the opportunity to do so - the circumstances involved in all four of plaintiff's accidents over the previous thirty-eight years.
Prior to jury selection, the trial court determined that the defendant could not directly question plaintiff about any lawsuits arising out of his prior accidents. However, to the extent necessary to allow the jury to understand the nature of any of plaintiff's statements made in the prior actions, the defendant was allowed to discuss at trial the earlier litigational landscape. Defendant was not barred from addressing all of plaintiff's prior accidents, treatment, and recovery. As the trial progressed, this in limine determination played virtually no role in defendant's presentation of evidence to the jury or the cross-examination of plaintiff and his expert witness. Indeed, the jury was treated to an expansive exploration of plaintiff's prior history of accidents and injuries. Nevertheless, defendant claims that the in limine ruling "had a chilling effect on counsel for the defendant and curtailed his asking questions which would have demonstrated that Plaintiff was not truthful."
Plaintiff's treating physician and expert witness opined that plaintiff suffered an injury in the form of an aggravation of a pre-existing arthritic condition in his right shoulder that was caused by the 2004 accident. Additionally, the testimony of plaintiff's expert witness expressed the view - to a reasonable degree of medical probability - that plaintiff suffered the following permanent injuries as a result of the 2004 accident:
"That he had a full thickness rotator cuff tear of his left shoulder with AC joint arthrosis; medial meniscus tear of the left knee; biceps tendonitis of the right shoulder with rotator cuff tear of the right shoulder and exacerbation of AC joint arthrosis; exacerbation of cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spondylosis, and sprain and strain."
Defendant's expert witness unsurprisingly had a different opinion. Distilled to its essence, the defense expert witness opined that plaintiff "has not suffered any permanent injury as a result of this accident."
A unanimous jury, given the full spectrum of facts, found that defendant was fully responsible for the happening of the accident and ascribed permanent injury to plaintiff as a result thereof. It awarded $400,000 in damages to plaintiff, which ...