CERTAIN UNDERWRITERS AT LLOYDS SUBSCRIBING TO POLICY PLH-0013397, as subrogee of Laura Lindsey, Plaintiff,
PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS, Defendant-Respondent. HOMESITE INSURANCE COMPANY, as subrogee of Rose Dun, Plaintiff,
PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS, Defendant-Respondent. RONALD SLEET and JUANITA SLEET, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS, Defendant-Respondent. LAURA LINDSEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS, Defendant-Respondent. LAUREN LINDSEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS, Defendant-Respondent. HOMESITE INSURANCE COMPANY, as subrogee of Irwin Author, Plaintiff,
PUBLIC SERVICE ELECTRIC AND GAS, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff-Respondent,
DAVEY TREE EXPERT COMPANY, Third-Party Defendant.
June 4, 2019
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Burlington County, Docket Nos. L-2040-14, L-2041-14,
L-2402-14, L-2405-14, L-1918-15 and L-0752-16.
F. Rupinski argued the cause for appellants.
T. Gunning argued the cause for respondent (Morrison Mahoney
LLP, attorneys; Robert T. Gunning, on the brief).
Judges Fisher, Suter, and Enright.
appeal, we examine the scope of available damages when a
defendant's negligence has caused a homeowner to be
displaced; that is, we consider whether a homeowner's
damages are limited to the cost of alternate shelter or
whether the homeowner may also seek additional damages based
on a broader concept of inconvenience. In adhering to the
legal concepts expressed in Camaraza v. Bellavia Buick
Corp., 216 N.J.Super. 263, 265 (App. Div. 1987), where
we held a motor vehicle owner's damages were not
necessarily limited to the rental cost of a replacement, and
in expanding Camaraza to claims other than those
involving the loss of use of a motor vehicle, we reverse the
summary judgment entered in favor of the defense and remand
February 2014, a winter storm caused a high-voltage power
line in Willingboro belonging to defendant Public Service
Electric and Gas (PSE&G) to fall and ignite fires in
plaintiffs' homes; they were displaced from their homes
for ten months.
filed this action against PSE&G. Their homeowners
insurance carriers reimbursed plaintiffs for the repair costs
and the incidental expenses generated by their extended stays
in motels during their displacement, but their suits also
sought damages for the loss of use of their homes, as well as
emotional distress, and personal injuries.
managing the case, the trial judge bifurcated the issues and
first considered PSE&G's liability. In January 2018,
a jury found PSE&G liable for the occurrence. A month
later, PSE&G moved for summary judgment, arguing
plaintiffs were undamaged beyond the compensation provided by
their insurers. The motion judge agreed and entered judgment
for PSE&G. Plaintiffs appeal, arguing the judge erred in
concluding they were not entitled to damages for the loss of
use of their property or their inconvenience. We agree
plaintiffs were entitled to further pursue these claims and,
error that led to the summary judgment under review arises
from the judge's misapprehension of our holding in
Camaraza, where the plaintiff's vehicle was
stolen while being repaired by the defendant. Ibid.
We recognized that the plaintiff, who chose not to rent a
substitute vehicle, could pursue a claim for his
inconvenience, which would include damages not only for the
loss of the vehicle's use during the reasonable time
needed for repairs, see also Graves v. Balt. & N.Y.
Ry. Co., 76 N.J.L. 362, 364 (Sup. Ct. 1908), but also
for the owner's exclusion from "normal recreational
pursuits or [diminished] enjoyment of those pursuits"
proximately caused by the defendant. Camaraza, 216
N.J.Super. at 267. Property owners, we recognized, may be
damaged by more than just repair costs when unable to make
use of their property. And, so, we took a broader view than
some other jurisdictions, concluding that "the degree of
inconvenience for loss of use of an automobile will vary
depending upon the individual circumstances of the
plaintiff"; the trier of fact, we said, "should be
permitted to consider the individual circumstances of a
plaintiff in determining loss of use damages."
Id. at 268. While holding that the rental value of
unavailable property is admissible and is a considerable aid
in quantifying the loss of use, see Jones v. Lahn, 1
N.J. 358, 362 (1949), that evidence is not conclusive; a
property owner may also pursue damages that exceed the mere
rental value of the vehicle during its unavailability.
See also MCI WorldCom Network Servs. v. Glendale
Excavation Corp., 224 F.Supp.2d 875, 880-81 (D.N.J.
adhering to Camaraza and extending its holding to
homeowners, we conclude that the mere fact that plaintiffs
were provided motel rooms and reimbursed meal and
transportation costs by their insurance carriers did not
foreclose their right to seek other damages resulting from
the loss of the use of their homes or any other reasonable
damages caused by the inconvenience. Damages in such
circumstances "are not limited to pecuniary losses which
are capable of precise measurement." Camaraza,
216 N.J.Super. at 266.
reject PSE&G's argument that plaintiffs'
inconvenience claims were not adequately supported.
Plaintiffs elaborated on the impact of displacement at their
depositions. The Lindseys, for example, testified they had to
move on multiple occasions due to insurance issues; their
inconvenience included the moving of oxygen tanks for the
seventy-eight-year-old Laura Lindsey, who suffered from
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The family was
motel-bound over the Thanksgiving holiday. And Laura Lindsey
was without personal items of sentimental value to her in her
last days; she died prior to trial. Lauren Lindsey,
Laura's daughter, had to share a motel room with her
fiancé and seven-year-old son, and she prematurely
gave birth to another child during the time of displacement,
generating further inconvenience during the infant's
Sleets described how they were stuck depending on fast-food
chains for most meals because their motel lacked a
full-service kitchen. Juanita Sleet attempted to replicate
their prior existence and bought several kitchen appliances
to make some meals in the motel; she claimed it wasn't
the same. And, because she was displaced, Juanita could not
have her mother, then residing in a nursing home, visit her
residence; her mother died before the Sleets were able to
return to their home. Ronald Sleet alleged his sleep was
affected; he claimed the motel bed was not the same quality
as his at home, and the sounds of trucks, kids running in
hallways, and motel doors slamming at all hours - compared to
his peaceful home on ...