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Alexis Spandet v. Paul Bucknam and Mary Louise Bucknam

April 11, 2011

ALEXIS SPANDET, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PAUL BUCKNAM AND MARY LOUISE BUCKNAM, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County, Docket No. L-654-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 15, 2010

Before Judges Fuentes and Ashrafi.

Plaintiff Alexis Spandet filed suit against defendants Paul Bucknam and Mary Louise Bucknam seeking compensatory and punitive damages for injuries plaintiff sustained from consuming alcohol while she attended a social function at defendants' residence. After considering the evidence presented at trial, a jury found defendants sixty percent liable and awarded plaintiff $2,500 in compensatory damages; the jury did not award punitive damages. The court thereafter molded the award of damages to reflect the jury's findings on liability, leaving plaintiff with a net award of $1,500.

Plaintiff now appeals, arguing that the trial court erred when it precluded her expert witness from testifying about plaintiff's possible ingestion of Rohypnol.*fn1 Plaintiff also seeks a new trial based on the inadequacy of the jury's damages award. We reject these arguments and affirm.

Our factual recitation will be limited to the extent necessary to provide context for the two legal issues raised by plaintiff in this appeal.

I

Plaintiff was seventeen years old when she accepted an invitation from two girls she knew to attend a party at the house of defendants' son, Jonathan. She testified that, aside from wine at church and dinner, she had never consumed alcohol before that day. When she arrived at the party, Mrs. Bucknam told her that "the kids were in the garage." When she arrived at the garage, plaintiff saw "a bunch of kids . . . playing beer pong," which she described as a game where kids throw "a little ball into [] cups." According to plaintiff, there were between twenty and thirty young people gathered in the garage.

Shortly after plaintiff arrived at the party, a youth approached her and "put" a green bottle to her mouth. Plaintiff swallowed some of the liquid in the bottle and then "pulled away," causing the liquid to spill onto her clothes. A short time after swallowing this liquid, plaintiff felt "like the whole room was spinning." Despite this, plaintiff agreed "to take a shot" of vodka. She explained that her "inhibitions were down, and everybody else was drinking."

The next thing plaintiff remembers was being in the bathroom and hearing two other girls say: "We have to make her throw up"; plaintiff indicated that she "couldn't move but [she] could hear them." While in the bathroom, she heard "a male's voice" and felt "somebody lift up my shirt, I felt somebody put their hands down my pants, but the girls said [to] cut it out."

Although she had no memory of leaving the bathroom, plaintiff next remembered "laying on . . . some sort of bench in the garage," and hearing defendant Paul Bucknam say: "Let her sleep it off." Plaintiff testified that she may have had as many as three shots of vodka.

The two girls who had invited plaintiff to the party testified that they saw plaintiff chugging vodka directly out of the bottle "for a good couple of seconds." One of them testified that plaintiff stated she was called "Whiskey Girl" in her old town. Another girl at the party estimated that plaintiff drank one quarter to one half of a 750 milliliter bottle of vodka. None of the witnesses saw any boy put his hands down plaintiff's pants. One of the teenage witnesses testified that she helped plaintiff out of the bathroom and into the garage; she also corroborated plaintiff's testimony that Paul Bucknam told her to let plaintiff sleep it off.

Against plaintiff's wishes, her parents declined to permit her to stay the night at the Bucknams'. Plaintiff's mother, Janet Johnson, testified that she and her husband picked plaintiff up from the party and assisted her into the backseat of their vehicle. When plaintiff would not wake up, Mrs. Johnson called 911 from the car. Plaintiff was ...


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