NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 15, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Passaic County, Docket No. DC-20085-11.
Joann Ripley, appellant pro se.
Sisselman & Schwartz, L.L.P., attorneys for respondent Sears Roebuck & Co. (Douglas S. Schwartz and Peter J. Baker, on the brief).
Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, attorneys for respondent LG Electronics (Paul A. Lefebvre and Walter F. Kawalec, III, on the brief).
Before Judges Simonelli and Koblitz.
Plaintiff Joann Ripley appeals from the May 23, 2012 judgment of $2, 492.40 entered in her favor against defendant Sears Roebuck & Co. (Sears) due to the negligent installation of an LG Electronics (LG) refrigerator. Ripley argues that the trial judge should have allowed her a brief adjournment to present testimony to substantiate the written estimate of damage to her home that she had not yet repaired. Because the judge misapplied his discretion in preventing this additional expert testimony in this non-jury Special Civil Part case, we reverse and remand for a retrial on the issue of damages only.
Ripley purchased an LG refrigerator from Sears. Sears delivered and installed it in October 2008. After Ripley found water leaking from the new appliance, on two occasions, a Sears repairman responded to her service requests. Initially, the damage to her property was minimal, and for the most part, limited to the areas behind and next to the refrigerator. In November 2009, due to a leaky connector between the refrigerator's icemaker and water hookup, a flood occurred in her condominium in which water entered her kitchen, bathroom and living room. The water caused damage to her flooring, cabinets and walls.
Ripley represented herself. Before trial began, the judge explained that Ripley would need an expert to prove causation. At trial, Ripley presented an expert witness who testified that the connector between the water supply and refrigerator was not properly installed as required by the instructions outlined in LG's manual. Specifically, the expert testified that the tubes were not properly mounted to the refrigerator. Sears also presented an expert, the Sears repairman who worked on Ripley's appliance, who claimed that LG's manual did not need to be followed in this regard.
Ripley testified that her out-of-pocket expenses totaled $2, 492.40, which included: $100 (mold remediation), $1, 795.26 (flooring costs exceeding that which she recovered from her homeowner's insurance), $126.40 (paint), and $470.74 (specialty tile and flooring supplies). Her homeowner's insurance covered only part of her flooring expenses.
Ripley attempted to present an estimate to remediate the damage caused by the flood in her condominium. The judge told her she could not present the estimate without an expert to testify about the damages. He explained that he would reserve decision as to whether she would be able to ...