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Walker v. Torres

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 23, 2013

TIKIYA WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
JUANITA TORRES, Defendant. TIKIYA WALKER, Appellant/Cross Respondent,
v.
21ST CENTURY INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent/Cross Appellant.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted July 30, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Docket Nos. L-97-09 and L-921-09.

Sal B. Daidone, attorney for appellant/cross respondent (Michael Wiseberg, on the brief).

Law Offices of Edward Hoagland, Jr., attorney for respondent/cross appellant (Stephen C. Wolf, on the brief).

Before Judges Espinosa and Hoffman.

PER CURIAM

In this auto negligence case, following a jury verdict of no cause of action, [1] plaintiff Tikiya Walker appeals from two evidentiary rulings made by the trial judge. Plaintiff contends the judge erred by barring her expert, a dentist, from testifying as to his interpretation of her MRIs and from using certain internet videos as a demonstrative aid during his testimony. Because we conclude these rulings did not constitute a mistaken exercise of discretion, we affirm.

I

On March 7, 2007, plaintiff's car was struck by defendant Juanita Torres on the driver's side as she proceeded through an intersection. According to plaintiff, the impact forced her head and the left side of her body into the left-side window and door of her car. Plaintiff claimed her head and jaw began to hurt immediately following the accident. After experiencing pain in her jaw while eating, plaintiff sought treatment from Dennis Ribatsky, D.D.S., a dentist who specializes in treatment of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction.

Dr. Ribatsky prepared a report dated January 12, 2009. His report quoted the conclusion of a radiologist's report pertaining to MRIs of plaintiff's jaw, performed at the Eastlantic Diagnostic Institute on September 11, 2007:

"1. Bilateral moderate anteromedial disc displacement with forward capture.
2. Decreased translation of movement on the left."

Dr. Ribatsky's report did not state that he independently interpreted the MRIs.

Prior to trial, plaintiff settled with Torres and the case proceeded to trial against plaintiff's underinsured motorist carrier, 21st Century Insurance Company (defendant). The parties stipulated as to liability, leaving damages as the only issue for trial. Plaintiff's counsel indicated he planned to call Dr. Ribatsky to testify, among other things, as to his interpretation of plaintiff's MRIs. Additionally, he advised that Dr. Ribatsky planned to use certain internet videos as a demonstrative aid during his testimony. Defendant moved to bar the MRI report from evidence and prevent Dr. Ribatsky from testifying regarding the MRIs and using the internet videos. The judge granted the motion to bar the MRI report from evidence, but reserved his decision on the remaining issues until after receiving Dr. Ribatsky's testimony at a N.J.R.E. 104 hearing.

At the hearing, Dr. Ribatsky testified that MRIs did not become part of the general practice of dentistry until after his graduation from dental school. When asked if he had taken courses on reading MRIs, Dr. Ribatsky stated "[y]ou take general TMJ courses, courses in treatment and diagnosis of temporomandibular oral facial pain type things. And, they include the reading and diagnosis of MRIs as part of the course." Dr. Ribatsky estimated that over the course of his practice, he had used MRIs in ...


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