DANNY CAICEDO, an infant by his Father and Natural Guardian SEGUNDO CAICEDO, and SEGUNDO CAICEDO, individually, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
FABIAN CAICEDO, CITY OF NEWARK POLICE DEPARTMENT, and CITY OF NEWARK, Defendants-Appellants
Argued: February 25, 2015.
Approved for Publication March 17, 2015.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-319-11.
Avion M. Benjamin, Assistant Corporation Counsel, argued the cause for appellants ( Anna P. Pereira, Corporation Counsel, attorney; Steven F. Olivo, Assistant Corporation Counsel, and Ms. Benjamin, on the briefs).
Casey J. Woodruff argued the cause for respondents ( Bramnick, Rodriguez, Mitterhoff, Grabas & Woodruff, LLC, attorneys; Mr. Woodruff, on the brief).
Before Judges ALVAREZ, MAVEN, and Carroll. The opinion of the court was delivered by CARROLL, J.A.D.
[439 N.J.Super. 618] OPINION
This appeal follows a jury verdict for damages sustained by plaintiff Danny Caicedo. Plaintiff was severely injured when the [439 N.J.Super. 619] bicycle he was riding was struck by a police cruiser operated by defendant Fabian Caicedo while on duty with defendant City of Newark Police Department.
Officer Caicedo had arrested an individual for a disorderly persons offense, and was transporting the prisoner to police headquarters for processing when he struck plaintiff's bicycle. At trial, the judge declined to instruct the jury that Officer Caicedo was entitled to good-faith
immunity under N.J.S.A. 59:3-3, which provides that " [a] public employee is not liable if he acts in good faith in the execution or enforcement of any law." This appeal requires us to decide whether the statute exempts defendants from liability where the police officer had effected an arrest and was transporting the prisoner under non-emergent circumstances. We decide that it does not. We also reject defendants' arguments that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence, and that the trial court erred in failing to order a new trial or a remittitur.
The collision occurred on June 29, 2010, immediately following plaintiff's eighth-grade graduation. Plaintiff, accompanied by three friends, was heading north on Broadway, a busy Newark street with two lanes of traffic in each direction and a twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit. Two of the boys were walking, while plaintiff and a friend, M.G., rode their bicycles along the shoulder of the roadway. Plaintiff testified that he was riding his bike straight, not swerving. M.G. and one of the walkers, B.P., both agreed. After a few seconds, M.G. crossed the street to return home; a minute or two later, plaintiff also decided to cross. Plaintiff described the events as follows:
[439 N.J.Super. 620] I was continuing to go straight, I was talking to them. And then after I said [bye], I looked over my shoulder [and] the light was still red. There [were] no cars in sight, so I decided to cross.
. . . .
. . . I turned, and all of a sudden, I just heard a loud screech[,] . . . and then I tried to turn back to the shoulder but it was too late, I got hit.
Plaintiff was then struck by Officer Caicedo's police vehicle and lost consciousness.
Plaintiff admitted that he did not cross at an intersection, and that he knew this was unsafe. Neither plaintiff, M.G., nor B.P. heard a horn or siren before the collision. B.P., on hearing the brakes screech, turned in time to observe the impact. He was ten feet from the collision, and estimated that Officer Caicedo's vehicle was travelling at a speed of forty to forty-five miles per hour. B.P. based his estimate of the vehicle's speed on the screeching noise he heard, which lasted " about ten seconds."
M.G. glimpsed Officer Caicedo's car as it neared plaintiff, and also estimated that it was travelling at forty to forty-five miles per hour. M.G. heard the car brake, but did not see the impact. His speed estimate was based on his observation that ...