United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DOUGLAS E. ARPERT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on an informal application by
Defendant United States of America for reconsideration of
this “Court's decision denying Defendant's
request to conduct an additional inspection of one of the
vehicles (i.e., the Jeep) involved in the motor-vehicle
accident that is the subject of these consolidated actions.
See Defendant's Letter to the Court dated September 27,
2018. ECF No. 75. Defendant argues that the Court should
reconsider its decision to prevent “manifest
injustice”, that is, Defendant “will be
prejudiced if its seatbelt expert is deprived of an
inspection of the Jeep to rebut Plaintiff's inertial and
inadvertent seatbelt release theory.” Id. at
p.5. Further, Defendant argues, it “could not predict
the seatbelt release theory raised in Dr. Pugh's report,
and a second inspection of the Jeep would not prejudice any
party to these actions.” Id. at p.7.
C.F. and D.F. oppose Defendant's application. See
Plaintiffs' Letter to the Court dated October 1, 2018.
ECF No. 76. In short, Plaintiffs argue, Defendant “has
failed to present any new evidence or legal authority to
support its request for reconsideration.” Id.
at p.1. Further, Plaintiffs maintain:
It is apparent…that Defendant USA was cogently award
of the seatbelt “issue” in this matter throughout
the fact-discovery period and that Defendant USA and its
experts had every opportunity to conduct inspections of the
subject Jeep, including its seat belt, during the
fact-discovery period. Id. at p.3.
underlying facts and procedural history of these consolidated
actions are well known to the parties and the Court and need
not be recited here at length. Pursuant to the operative
scheduling order, fact discovery was to be concluded by July
2, 2018. Plaintiff served Dr. James Pugh's
(biomechanical) expert report on July 27, 2018, On August 18,
2018, Defendant served a Subpoena seeking to conduct an
additional inspection of the Jeep. An initial inspection of
the Jeep was conducted by Defendant and its experts-including
a 3-D scan of the vehicle-on March 13, 2018. After Plaintiffs
objected to Defendant's Subpoena, the issue was presented
to the Court by Defendant.
Opinion and Order dated September 13, 2018, the Court denied
Defendant's request for the inspection and quashed
Defendant's Subpoena. ECF No. 69. The factual and legal
bases for that decision speak for themselves.
seeking reconsideration of a Court's Order must show
“(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2)
the availability of new evidence that was not available when
the court [issued its order]; or (3) the need to correct a
clear error of law for fact or to prevent manifest
injustice.” Max's Seafood Café v.
Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999).
“Manifest injustice pertains to situations where a
court overlooks some dispositive factual or legal matter that
was presented to it.” Inventory Recovery Corp. v.
Gabriel, No. 11-1604, 2017 WL 319177, at *3 (D.N.J. Jan.
Defendant has not identified any change in the controlling
law or new evidence that would support its application.
Rather, Defendant contends reconsideration is necessary to
prevent “manifest injustice.” Specifically,
Defendant claims an addition inspection of the Jeep by a
seatbelt expert is required to rebut the “novel theory
of seatbelt malfunction” that was revealed for the
first time in Dr. Pugh's report in July 2018.
review of the factual history of this case, as developed
through the discovery process, only serves to reinforce the
Court's original decision to deny Defendant's
application to permit an additional inspection. Defendant
acknowledges that “from the onset of discovery [it]
pursued evidence of whether or not Plaintiff C.F. was not
wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident.” ECF
No. 75 at p.1. Moreover, “[e]arly in discovery, in
support of its cross-claim, the Defendant developed evidence
that Plaintiff C.F. was not wearing his seatbelt.”
Id. In the course of discovery, conflicting
deposition testimony was obtained on this issue. Accordingly,
Defendant can not reasonably claim to have been surprised by
the seatbelt reference in Dr. Pugh's report. As
previously noted by the Court, “Dr. Pugh's report
does not contain any conclusions that relate or refer to any
alleged seatbelt malfunction.” ECF No. 69 at p.3.
Rather, Dr. Pugh concludes, in part, that C.F. “would
have sustained the [same] injuries irrespective of whether or
not the seatbelt had been in place at the moment of impact
with the tree.” ECF No. 76 at p.4.
has asserted a cross claim against Plaintiff/Defendant Robert
Fuggi III, the driver of the Jeep in which C.F. was a
passenger. ECF No. 12. There, Defendant alleges that the
“injuries sustained by the plaintiffs were in whole or
in part, caused by plaintiffs' failure to properly wear
the appropriate seat belt restraint device.”
Id. at ¶ 22. Defendant argues that the driver
“may be comparatively negligent if he failed to ensure
that his minor brother, Plaintiff C.F., fastened his seat
belt and the seatbelt would have prevented C.F.'s serious
injuries.” ECF No. 75 at p.5.
successfully evidence “manifest injustice, ” a
movant must demonstrate that the Court “overlooked some
dispositive factual or legal matter that was presented to
it.” Inventory Recovery Corp., 2017 WL319177,
well established that New Jersey jurisprudence recognizes a
co-called seat-belt defense. “If a jury finds a
plaintiff negligent for failure to wear a seat belt,
plaintiff's recovery for injuries that could have been
avoided by seat-belt use may be reduced by an amount
reflecting plaintiff's comparative fault in not wearing a
seat belt.” Malik v. Cooper Tire & Rubber
Co., 59 F.Supp.3d 686, 694 (D.N.J. 2014) (citing
Waterson v. Gen. Motors Corp., 111 N.J. 238, 264 (1988).
But, “in order for a jury to consider seat belt nonuse
in reducing damages, the failure to sear a seat belt
must increase the extent or severity of
injury.” Waterson, 111 N.J. at 264
(emphasis added). Dr. Pugh's report concludes,
among other things, that “had the seat belt been in
place at the moment of impact, [C.F.] would not have survived
the collision because the seatbelt would have held
[C.F.'s] body in harm's way and exposed his body to
significantly-increased forces from the intruding right side
of the Jeep, thereby causing much more significant head
injuries and visceral damage, and likely death.” CF No.
75-1 at p.8. In other words, Dr. Pugh concludes that
C.F.'s injuries, though traumatic, ...