On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, L-1689-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 24, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Lisa, Sabatino and Alvarez.
Plaintiff, Michael Pullaro, claimed that he suffered a workplace injury on July 9, 2004 when he tripped over debris left in an unlighted hallway that was commonly used by workers on the job. He sued various parties whom he claimed were liable to him because of the unsafe condition of the property, namely, Pier Village and Pier Village Development I, LLC (collectively, Pier Village), the property owner, AJD Construction Company, Inc. (AJD), the general contractor, and Freddy's Drywall, Inc. (Freddy's Drywall), the sheetrock subcontractor. After a three-day liability-only trial on May 20, 21 and 26, 2009, the jury returned a verdict finding that none of the three defendants were negligent. Final judgment was entered on June 15, 2009, dismissing the complaint with prejudice against all three defendants.*fn1
Plaintiff now appeals and raises these arguments:
I. THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN DENYING PLAINTIFF'S UNOPPOSED MOTION TO EXTEND THE DISCOVERY DATE AS WELL AS NOT PERMITTING PLAINTIFF'S LATE AMENDMENTS AND NOT PERMITTING PLAINTIFF'S EXPERTS TO TESTIFY.
II. THE LOWER COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION UNDER N.J.R.E. 609 IN PERMITTING THE JURY TO HEAR TESTIMONY ABOUT PLAINTIFF'S THREE PRIOR CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS.
III. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN REFUSING TO MODIFY THE JURY VERDICT SHEET.
IV. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO INCLUDE PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR A SPECIFIC CHARGE RELATING TO GENERAL CONTRACTOR LIABILITY.
V. THE JURY QUESTION C-2 RELATING TO
"PROXIMATE" CAUSE INDICATED JURY CONFUSION, WHICH SHOULD HAVE NULLIFIED THE VERDICT.
VI. PLAINTIFF WAS FORCED TO REQUEST A BIFURCATION OF THE CASE, REQUIRING THE JURY TO SPECULATE AS TO PLAINTIFF'S INJURIES WITHOUT AN OPPORTUNITY FOR MEDICAL EXPLANATION FROM PLAINTIFF'S TREATING DOCTORS.
VII. THE COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO ORDER A NEW TRIAL BECAUSE THE VERDICT AS TO EACH DEFENDANT WAS AGAINST THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.
We reject plaintiff's arguments and affirm.*fn2
On the date of the accident, plaintiff was an electrician employed by Power Electric and was working on a large multi-building commercial and residential construction project on Pier Village's property in Long Branch. Plaintiff was installing wiring in building one, a four-story building. The ground floor contained a corridor approximately 100 to 120 feet long and about five feet wide. On one side of the corridor there were five or six apartments, each with exterior windows and with one door opening into the corridor. The other side contained only utility rooms with no windows. Plaintiff and other workers routinely used this corridor as a means of ingress and egress to the building from the parking lot. Prior to the day of the accident, the corridor was lit naturally by sunlight shining through the windows of the apartments.
On the day of the accident, July 9, 2004, plaintiff followed his usual routine. He reported to the site at about 7:00 a.m. and went to the work trailer, which is outside, to obtain his work assignment. He was assigned to the fourth floor, and he ascended stairs to that location to look over the work to be done. At about 7:30 a.m., he obtained supplies from the electrical supply room on the first floor, after which he returned to the fourth floor and worked for a time. He then returned downstairs for more supplies. In particular, he picked up a large, heavy spool of wire. He began ascending the stairs carrying the wire, when he was advised by other workers that it was time for their 9:00 a.m. break.
Plaintiff descended the stairs carrying the wire. He intended to return to his car for the break, but first wanted to hide the wire in apartment 137, along the corridor we have described, which was close to his parking space. He wanted to make sure the wire was still there after his break, because "everybody takes everyone's stuff."
Plaintiff opened the door to the corridor and claims it was dark except for the sunlight that was coming through the apartment doorways. Apparently, since the day before, workers had installed sheetrock on the corridor walls, thus closing it up except for the door openings. According to plaintiff, there were streams of sunlight coming through each open doorway, but the intervening spaces were dark. Plaintiff contended there was no artificial lighting in the corridor.
Plaintiff decided to adhere to his plan and thought he could make it to apartment 137. He made it safely past the first apartment doorway, but claims that before he reached the second one he "hit something," kicking it with his foot and falling to the ground with the wire. He said the wire landed on his neck. At trial, he said when he picked himself up he observed white dust on his hands and knees, which he attributed to sheetrock. He said he felt around in the darkness to see what he had hit, and it felt like the corner of some sheetrock. Plaintiff proceeded to apartment 137 and placed the wire there as he intended, after which he continued down the corridor and went on his break.
In his deposition testimony, plaintiff did not say he detected the corner of some sheetrock after he fell. He said he tripped on "something" and was "assuming" it was sheetrock. He never went back later the day of the ...