July 16, 2010
SADHNA SHARMA, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND SHUBH SHARMA, HER HUSBAND, PER QUOD, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS/CROSS-RESPONDENTS,
PHILLIP J. BAZSIKA, AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANT, AND ROBERT S. HILL, AN INDIVIDUAL; QUAIL RIDGE ASSOCIATES 8, A BUSINESS ENTITY; QUAIL RIDGE ASSOCIATES 9, A BUSINESS ENTITY; AND QUAIL RIDGE ASSOCIATES 10, A BUSINESS ENTITY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS/CROSS-APPELLANTS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-0141-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 5, 2010
Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Simonelli.
In this civil action, plaintiff Sadhna Sharma*fn1 appeals from a jury verdict finding defendants Robert Hill and Quail Ridge Associates (QRA) not liable. We affirm.
On November 29, 2004, plaintiff was driving her car on Dey Road in Plainsboro when she collided head-on with a car coming from the opposite direction driven by Phillip Bazsika. Shortly before the accident, Hill, a maintenance worker employed by QRA, saw Bazsika pull into the parking lot of the company's management offices. According to Hill, Bazsika drove in a reckless manner through an intersection and into the parking lot. Hill assumed that Bazsika was one of a group of disgruntled tenants being evicted that day and attributed his behavior to his displeasure over the situation.
Several minutes later, as he drove on Dey Road, Hill saw Bazsika driving at a high rate of speed; this time, Bazsika swerved to the right shoulder of the road, then swerved left into the lane of oncoming traffic, and struck plaintiff's car head-on. Hill was able to contact the police using a handheld radio he carried to communicate with his co-workers at the management office.
In addition to Bazsika, plaintiff sued Hill and QRA.*fn2
Plaintiff argued that Hill owed her a duty to notify the police when he first saw Bazsika driving erratically in the QRA parking lot minutes before the accident. As to QRA, plaintiff argued it was vicariously liable for its employee's failure to act.
Citing Davis v. Pecorino, 69 N.J. 1, 4 (1975), plaintiff maintains that just as commercial property owners owe a duty of care to pedestrians walking on sidewalks abutting their property, QRA has a duty to passing motorists to prevent negligent drivers from using a public roadway abutting the company's property. Stated differently, plaintiff argues that QRA made "special use" of the section of Dey Road that partly services its property.
Plaintiff's argument lacks sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). Our Supreme Court has recently articulated the standard for imposing a legal duty of care in tort law:
A duty is an obligation imposed by law requiring one party to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another. The recognition or establishment of a legal duty in tort law is generally a matter for a court to decide. One scholarly treatise has put the issue in quite simple, if not specific, terms: No better general statement can be made than that the courts will find a duty where, in general, reasonable persons would recognize it and agree that it exists. Central to the determination of whether a duty does or should exist is a value judgment, based on an analysis of public policy, and notions of fairness. The fairness and public policy considerations involve weighing several factors: the relationship of the parties, the nature of the attendant risk, the opportunity and ability to exercise care, and the public interest in the proposed solution.
[Acuna v. Turkish, 192 N.J. 399, 413-14 (2007) (internal quotations and citations omitted), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 44, 172 L.Ed. 2d 22 (2008).]
Here, considerations of fairness and public policy weigh heavily against imposing a duty of care on owners of real properties abutting a public roadway to protect motorists using that roadway from negligent drivers. There is no evidence that QRA's use of Dey Road was in any way different from the use afforded to the general public. The mere proximity of the QRA property to Dey Road does not change the public character of the thoroughfare, nor does it impose a legal duty upon QRA to police motorists utilizing that road.
As to the issues raised in QRA's cross-appeal, QRA's arguments are deemed moot as the company ultimately prevailed at trial regarding the extent of its legal duty.