Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Supreme Court of New Jersey
September 12, 1994, Argued; May 1, 1995, Reargued ; July 27, 1995, Decided
A-6 September Term 1994
[*211] [**286] The opinion of the Court was delivered by
Plaintiff alleges that in the course of her personal injury action against two motorists, she was subjected to repeated indignities by private investigators acting on behalf of an insurance company and a law firm representing one of the motorists. The Appellate Division has ordered a trial to determine whether defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress on plaintiff, and whether defendants invaded plaintiff's privacy. The Appellate Division was divided on one issue, which is the subject of this appeal. The question is whether the absolute privilege accorded to statements made by participants in judicial proceedings extends to statements made by private investigators employed by the parties or their representatives. We agree with the majority of the Appellate Division [***9] panel that the absolute privilege does extend to statements made by private investigators. We affirm the judgment below.
Because the case arises on the defendants' motions for summary judgment, we may accept as true the facts as set forth in plaintiff's papers. On July 1, 1987, plaintiff, Linda Hawkins, had an automobile accident, which left her physically and mentally disabled. On July 14, 1987, Mrs. Hawkins was involved in another automobile accident, which worsened her condition. She filed lawsuits against the two responsible motorists. The two cases were consolidated for discovery and trial. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Mrs. [*212] Hawkins for approximately $ 435,000. Thereafter, the motorists in the underlying action settled the case for $ 350,000.
On April 10, 1991, plaintiff filed a seven-count complaint against various attorneys, insurance companies, and investigators involved in the underlying litigation. We shall refer to them as the lawyer-defendants, the insurer-defendants, and the investigator-defendants. [**287] The insurer-defendants were the insurers of the various defendants in the automobile accident case. The lawyer-defendants were attorneys for one of the motorists [***10] in the underlying case. The lawyer-defendants and insurer-defendants had hired the investigator-defendants--Search Investigations, Inc., and Alex Toia--to gather information about the accidents and the consequential damages claimed by plaintiff. Plaintiff's complaint included allegations that the investigator-defendants defamed her during their investigation.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
141 N.J. 207 *; 661 A.2d 284 **; 1995 N.J. LEXIS 524 ***
LINDA HAWKINS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, v. BRIAN HARRIS, STEPHEN HOPKINS, BRAFF, EWH & S, SEARCH INVESTIGATIONS, INC., ALEX TOIA, STATE FARM INSURANCE CO., AND NEW JERSEY AUTOMOBILE FULL INSURANCE UNDERWRITING ASSOCIATION (JUA), DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND HANOVER INSURANCE CO., DEFENDANT.
Prior History: [***1] On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
investigators, absolute privilege, defamation, judicial proceedings, immunity, proceedings, parties, investigator-defendants, defamatory, witnesses, insurers, course of judicial proceeding, private investigator, qualified privilege, discovery, hired, litigation privilege, privileged, extends, motorists, protects, authorized by law, allegations, malicious, courts, open communication, absolute immunity, insurance company, quasi-judicial, supervision
Torts, Defenses, Privileges, Absolute Privileges, General Overview, Civil Procedure, Attorneys, Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Witnesses, Presentation, Public Entity Liability, Immunities, Judicial Immunity