WILLIAM QUAIL, as Administrator of the ESTATE OF MARY K. QUAIL and WILLIAM QUAIL, Individually, Plaintiff-Appellant,
SHOP-RITE SUPERMARKETS, INC., SHOP-RITE OF STANHOPE, NEW JERSEY, SHOP-RITE OF BYRAM TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY, and RONETCO d/b/a SHOPRITE OF BYRAM, N.J. #203, Defendants-Respondents.
April 9, 2018
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Sussex County, Docket No. L-0606-14.
Michael S. Bubb argued the cause for appellant (Bubb, Grogan
& Cocca, LLP, attorneys; Michael S. Bubb, of counsel and
on the briefs; Anthony Cocca, on the brief).
D. Marino argued the cause for respondents (Harwood Lloyd,
LLC, attorneys; Stephen Wellinghorst and Mark D. Marino, on
Judges Sabatino, Ostrer and Rose.
in this wrongful death and survival action appeals from the
trial court's rulings to: (1) exclude from evidence at
trial a Certificate of Death issued following an examination
by the county deputy medical examiner; (2) deny plaintiff a
reopening and extension of discovery to allow the use of the
medical examiner's associated report; and (3) grant
summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claims.
date of the accident, decedent and plaintiff were shopping at
defendant's supermarket. Decedent was using a motorized
cart. As she went down a narrow aisle, her cart's basket
caught on a cash register station, causing the station to
fall on her. The accident injured her leg. Decedent stated
she was fine and went home, but four days later she was taken
to the hospital with complications. She died the following
deputy medical examiner inspected decedent's body, a
Certificate of Death was issued. The Certificate stated that
the manner of her death was an "accident" and that
the cause of death was "complications of blunt trauma of
[the] right lower extremity." The examiner's
associated report reiterated these conclusions in more
legal issue in this appeal is whether the State Medical
Examiner Act, N.J.S.A. 52:17B-92, mandates the admission
before a civil jury of the Certificate of Death and the
hearsay opinions it contained. In addition, we consider
whether the hearsay exception for vital statistics, N.J.R.E.
803(c)(9), supplies a sufficient pathway for the
Certificate's admissibility. As part of that analysis, we
consider whether the "net opinion" doctrine,
N.J.R.E. 808 (disallowing the admission of certain disputed
complex opinions embedded in otherwise-admissible hearsay
records), and case law require the exclusion of the
examiner's hearsay opinions. The panel also considers
whether the trial court misapplied its discretion in
declining to reopen and extend discovery under the
circumstances, and whether the court erred in granting
reasons that follow, we hold that N.J.S.A. 52:17B-92 does not
provide an absolute right to a civil plaintiff to admit the
full contents of the Certificate of Death. The hearsay
opinions within the Certificate were properly excluded by the
trial court under N.J.R.E. 808, the net opinion doctrine, and
pertinent case law. We also hold the hearsay exception for
vital statistics does not require admission of the
we conclude the trial court reasonably exercised its
discretion in declining to reopen and extend discovery after
declaring the Certificate inadmissible. Nor did the court err
in granting defendant summary judgment, in light of
plaintiff's lack of necessary expert proof of medical
October 19, 2012, plaintiff William Quail and his wife,
decedent Mary Quail ("Mary"),  were shopping in
Stanhope at the "Shop-Rite of Byram" supermarket.
Mary used a motorized shopping cart, but had difficulty
maneuvering through the checkout aisle. When the cart's
grocery basket caught the edge of a register station, the
register station collapsed and fell on Mary's right leg.
A cashier asked if Mary was alright or needed help, and Mary
responded at the time that she was fine but a little shaken.
The cashier called the store manager, who also asked Mary
about her condition. According to the manager's written
statement, Mary stated at the time that she was fine and not
hurt at all.
Mary returned home, her leg began to swell, but she did not
seek immediate medical attention. Four days later, on October
23, Mary was taken to St. Clare's Hospital. She presented
with a large hematoma on her right leg. Mary's condition
deteriorated rapidly. She was pronounced dead at the hospital
at 5:51 a.m. on October 24, 2012.
when a person dies within twenty-four hours after admission
into a hospital, the Morris County Medical Examiner is
notified to inspect the body. Accordingly, on October 24, Dr.
Carlos A. Fonseca, a forensic pathologist and deputy county
medical examiner, externally inspected decedent's
refrigerated body and prepared a report. The following day, a
Certificate of Death was issued. It stated decedent's
manner of death was an "accident, " and that the
cause of death was "complications of blunt trauma of
[the] right lower extremity." The Certificate was issued
by the Local Registrar, and bears the sealed signature of the
Acting State Registrar of the New Jersey Office of Vital
Statistics and Registry.
Fonseca's associated three-page report amplified the
findings noted on the Certificate of Death. The report
described decedent as "a morbidly obese, well developed,
elderly white female who appears to be the stated age of 68
years." The report included observations about the
decedent's condition as to various parts of her body. One
of Dr. Fonseca's observations in the report was that:
The right lower extremity reveals mild pitting edema from the
knee level down. The right leg reveals extensive swelling of
the anterolateral surface due to a 9" x 7"
hematoma. Associated with this is purplish/bluish bruising of
the back of the leg extending into the popliteal fossa that
reveals thickening of the skin. The skin overlying the
hematoma is tense and with fluctuation on compression. A
large area of epidermolysis measuring 7" x 4" is
noted at this level with superficial ulceration of the skin
with partial splitting of the dermis and oozing of clear to
hemorrhagic fluid. Patchy areas of skin slippage are noted
around the margins of the hematoma.
the end of the report, Dr. Fonseca opined:
Based on the investigation, medical history, medical records,
and external examination, it is my opinion that the deceased
died as a consequence of complications of blunt trauma of
right lower extremity having as contributory conditions
anticoagulation therapy for atrial fibrillation, diabetes
mellitus, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, and congestive heart failure. Manner of
death is accidental.
plaintiff, as administrator of his late wife's estate and
individually, filed a civil action in the Law Division
against Shop-Rite and fictitious defendants. He asserts
claims under the Wrongful Death Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 to -6,
and under the Survivor Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-3. Both claims
rest upon a theory that decedent's accident was caused by
the supermarket's negligence, allegedly causing her leg
injury and ultimate death.
contests liability and resultant damages. With respect to the
issues on appeal, its main argument is that plaintiff, who
did not retain a medical expert, failed to present sufficient
evidence to establish medical causation. Plaintiff counters
that such causation is substantiated by the Certificate ...