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Krassan v. Havana, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 20, 2014

MICHAEL KRASSAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HAVANA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DOUGLAS E. ARPERT, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on two Motions: (1) a Motion by Defendant Havana, Inc. ("Havana") for leave to file a Third-Party Complaint against Plaintiff Michael Krassan [Dkt. No. 9]; and (2) a Motion by Plaintiff Liberty Mutual Insurance Company ("Liberty Mutual") for leave to file an Amended Complaint naming Crum and Forester Insurance Company ("CFIC") as a Defendant [Dkt. No. 11]. Both Motions are unopposed. For the reasons set forth below, Havana's Motion for leave to file a Third-Party Complaint against Michael Krassan is GRANTED and Liberty Mutual's Motion to amend its Complaint to add CFIC as a Defendant is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

This matter consists of three actions separately filed against Havana by Plaintiffs Liberty Mutual, Michael Krassan's automobile insurance carrier [Civil Action No. 14-1546], Bonnie Alley, the mother of Ryan Alley and Administratrix of his estate [Civil. Action. No. 14-1698] and Michael Krassan [Civil Action. No. 14-1405] (collectively "Plaintiffs"). These cases were consolidated for all purposes on June 23, 2014, under Civil Action No. 14-1405 [Dkt. No. 6]. Plaintiffs' claims arise out of a motor vehicle accident on March 16, 2012, which resulted in the death of the driver of the vehicle, Ryan Alley, and caused injuries to the passenger and owner of the vehicle, Michael Krassan.

Plaintiffs allege that Havana, a bar located and licensed in New Hope, Pennsylvania, solicited patrons on the campus of The College of New Jersey ("TCNJ") in Ewing, New Jersey, by posting advertisements on campus billboards and in TCNJ's student newspaper. According to Plaintiffs, Havana regularly provided transportation between its bar and TCNJ's campus. Plaintiffs claim that on the night of March 15, 2012, Havana served alcoholic beverages to Ryan Alley, who became visibly intoxicated, as evidenced by "loud and boisterous behavior", slurred speech, "glassy bloodshot eyes" and loss of coordination. Plaintiffs allege that after Ryan Alley left the bar in a visibly intoxicated state, he operated a motor vehicle in which Michael Krassan was a passenger. At approximately 2:05 a.m. on March 16, 2012, shortly after leaving Havana, Ryan Alley lost control of the vehicle and collided with a chain link fence, a street sign and a tree. Ryan Alley, who had a blood alcohol level of.21%, was killed in the accident and Michael Krassan suffered severe and permanent internal and external injuries.

Plaintiffs Complaints allege that Havana acted negligently in continuing to serve alcoholic beverages to Ryan Alley after he became visibly intoxicated and allowing Ryan Alley to leave the premises when Havana knew or should have known that he would operate a motor vehicle. Accordingly, Plaintiffs claim that Havana's actions created a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm, and as a result, Havana is liable for the damages sustained by Plaintiffs as a result of the accident.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Leave to File Third-Party Complaint

In support of its Motion for leave to file a Third-Party Complaint against Michael Krassan, Havana claims that the vehicle operated by Ryan Alley during the time of the accident was owned by Michael Krassan, and that Michael Krassan provided Ryan Alley with the keys to the vehicle and permission to operate it even though Ryan Alley was visibly intoxicated. Accordingly, Havana alleges that Michael Krassan negligently entrusted his vehicle to Ryan Alley, whom he knew or should have known was intoxicated, thereby creating a foreseeable risk of harm and a valid cause of action for contribution and common-law indemnification against Michael Krassan for Bonnie Alley's claims against Havana pursuant to the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Act and the Comparative Negligence Act of New Jersey.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 14, "[a] defending party may, as third-party plaintiff, serve a summons and complaint on a nonparty who is or may be liable to it for all or part of the claim against it." Fed.R.Civ.P. 14(a)(1). "A third-party claim may be asserted under Rule 14(a) only when the third party's liability is in some way dependent on the outcome of the main claim or when the third party is secondarily liable to defendant. If the claim is separate or independent from the main action, impleader will be denied." F.D.I.C. v. Bathgate, 27 F.3d 850, 873 (3d Cir.1994).

Under Rule 14, when a Third-Party Complaint is not filed with 14 days after a defendant's service of its original answer, the decision to grant leave to file a Third-Party Complaint rests within the sound discretion of the Court. Hitachi Capital Am. Corp. v. Nussbaum Sales Corp., 2010 WL 1379804, at *5 (D.N.J. Mar. 30, 2010). In exercising its discretion to permit the filing of a Third-Party Complaint, Courts consider: "(1) the timeliness of the motion; (2) the probability of trial delay; (3) the potential for complication of issues at trial; and (4) prejudice to the original plaintiff." Mechin v. Carquest Corp., 2010 WL 3259808, at *5 (D.N.J. Aug.17, 2010).

The relevant portion of the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Act states:

Where injury or damage is suffered by any person as a result of the wrongful act, neglect or default of joint tortfeasors, and the person so suffering injury or damage recovers a money judgment or judgments for such injury or damage against one or more of the joint tortfeasors... and any one of the joint tortfeasors pays such judgment in whole or in part, he shall be entitled to recover contribution from the other... joint tortfeasors for the excess so paid over his pro rata share....

N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-3. The Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Act "was enacted to promote the fair sharing of the burden of judgment by joint tortfeasors and to prevent a plaintiff from arbitrarily selecting his or her victim." Bolz v. Bolz, 946 A.2d 596 (N. J. Super. Ct. A.D. 2008) (internal quotations omitted). The Act requires a party seeking contribution to demonstrate that the party it seeks contribution from is a joint tortfeasor. Prospect Ashley Condominium Ass'n, Inc. v. Lookout Builders, Inc., 2008 WL 108178, at *2 (N.J.Super. Ct. A.D. Jan. 11, 2008) ("The rule is well settled: there must be joint liability and not joint, common or concurrent negligence.'") (quoting Farren v. New Jersey Tpk. Auth., 106 A.2d 752 (N.J.Super. Ct. App.Div.1954)). A party seeking relief under the Act ...


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