April 5, 2011
MATEEK PUGH AND MONICA PUGH, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
MONMOUTH MEDICAL CENTER, ROBERT GRAEBE, M.D., AND FRED TEICHMAN, M.D., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-2789-02.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 28, 2011
Before Judges Kestin and Newman.
Plaintiffs, Mateek Pugh and his mother, Monica Pugh, appeal from an order denying their motion to set aside a settlement agreement and from the granting of defendants' cross-motion enforcing the settlement agreement. We now affirm.
The background facts are as follows. This medical malpractice action resulted from the June 5, 1982, birth of plaintiff, Mateek Pugh. It was alleged that defendants were negligent during the management of Monica Pugh's labor and delivery, which purportedly led to permanent cognitive and physical disabilities in the child, Mateek Pugh.
Plaintiffs filed their complaint in 2002. Settlement discussions took place, not only between the parties, but in conferences with Judge Locasio and with representatives of the insurance company.
On July 6, 2009, the parties appeared before Judge Uhrmacher for a preemptory trial date. Pre-trial settlement discussions took place at that time, which eventually led to an agreement with the following terms: The parties agreed to binding arbitration before either Judge Wolfson or Judge Hamlin, both retired, with a stipulation of defendants' liability, and a high/low agreement of $425,000/$1,000,000. Once this agreement was made, it was placed on the record, with plaintiffs questioned regarding whether they understood the terms of the agreement; that they were waiving their right to a jury trial; and that they could not change their minds or appeal the arbitrator's decision. Both plaintiffs answered these questions in the affirmative.
Following the settlement, there was a change of mind. Judge Uhrmacher heard testimony from plaintiffs and their attorney to determine what was in plaintiffs' minds on July 6, 2009, when they agreed to accept the settlement. Monica Pugh admitted on cross-examination that she was truthful when, at the earlier proceeding, she was questioned under oath and agreed to the settlement terms. Her son, Mateek, admitted that he changed his mind after leaving the courtroom, believing an arbitrator may not be sympathetic or fair to him.
As Judge Uhrmacher concluded:
What we have is that Mateek Pugh has changed his mind. He thinks he'll get a better shot with a jury. And that's just not a basis to set this aside. So I'm denying the motion to vacate the settlement as it was entered into. I'm granting the motion to enforce.
On appeal, plaintiffs contend they were pressured to enter into the settlement agreement, were not prepared for trial, and had insufficient time to make a decision to accept the settlement terms. Plaintiffs also point out that they lacked a choice of arbitrator because Judge Wolfson had a conflict, which meant that he could not serve as an arbitrator, and the court then selected Judge Hamlin as the arbitrator, purportedly contrary to the agreement.
We have considered plaintiffs' arguments in light of the record and the briefs submitted and reject them. We are convinced that Judge Uhrmacher properly enforced the settlement agreement and denied plaintiffs' motion to set aside that agreement. We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Uhrmacher in her oral decision of February 17, 2010. Judge Uhrmacher's determination is well-supported by substantial credible evidence in the record. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A).
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