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Townsend v. Pierre

Supreme Court of New Jersey

October 21, 2014, Argued; March 12, 2015, Decided

A-2 September Term 2013, 072357

Opinion

 [*42]  [**55]   JUSTICE PATTERSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this appeal, we apply the net opinion rule and the standard for summary judgment to a negligence action arising from a fatal collision between an automobile  [**56]  and a motorcycle. The accident occurred as the driver of the automobile, Noah Pierre (Pierre), was turning left at an intersection controlled by a stop sign. Among the defendants named in plaintiffs' wrongful death and survival actions were the owner and lessee of a property located on a corner of the intersection where the accident occurred. Plaintiffs alleged that these defendants negligently maintained overgrown shrubbery on their property, blocking Pierre's view of oncoming traffic at the intersection.

The role of the defendants' shrubbery in the accident was the subject of discovery. Pierre testified that shrubbery on the property initially obscured her view when she was stopped at the stop sign at the intersection, [***10]  but that she edged forward, starting and stopping four times until her view of oncoming traffic was unimpeded. A passenger in Pierre's vehicle corroborated Pierre's testimony that when she turned left, she had an unobstructed view of approaching traffic. The record contains no testimony to the  [*43]  contrary. However, an engineering expert retained by plaintiffs opined that the overgrown shrubbery on the property next to the intersection was a proximate cause of the fatal collision. He acknowledged Pierre's testimony that she stopped four times before proceeding and that the shrubbery on the adjoining property did not obstruct her view, but contended that Pierre's account of the accident was mistaken.

The trial court granted defendants' motion to strike the expert's testimony as a net opinion lacking support in the record. The court then granted defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiffs' claims against the property owner and lessee. The Appellate Division vacated the trial court's order barring the expert's report and reversed the grant of summary judgment, holding that the expert's conclusion was sufficiently grounded in the record and that plaintiffs could elicit the [***11]  expert's opinion disputing Pierre's testimony in the form of a hypothetical question at trial.

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221 N.J. 36 *; 110 A.3d 52 **; 2015 N.J. LEXIS 273 ***

DEBORAH F. TOWNSEND, ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF ALVIN J. TOWNSEND, JR.; AL-VIN J. TOWNSEND, SR., ADMINISTRATOR AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF ALVIN J. TOWNSEND, JR.; AND ALVIN J. TOWNSEND, JR., DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS, v. NOAH PIERRE AN INDIVIDUAL; JEAN HI-LAIREMONT, AN INDIVIDUAL; THE PRECISION DENTAL SPECIALIST, LLC; LEONARD H. JUROS, AN INDIVIDUAL; JANET L. JUROS, AN INDIVIDUAL; TOWNSHIP OF WILL-INGBORO; AND BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF BURLINGTON, DEFENDANTS, AND GARLAND PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, LLC; AND SUNSET FAMILY DENTAL, LLC, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

Prior History: On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 429 N.J. Super. 522, 60 A.3d 800 (2013) [***1] .

Townsend v. Pierre, 429 N.J. Super. 522, 60 A.3d 800, 2013 N.J. Super. LEXIS 31 (App.Div., 2013)

CORE TERMS

trial court, shrubbery, intersection, Dental, plaintiffs', expert testimony, summary judgment, stop sign, hypothetical question, expert opinion, causation, oncoming traffic, proximate cause, expert report, traffic, driver, summary judgment motion, defendants', speculation, obstructed, collision, overgrown, certif, opined, issue of causation, left turn, turn left, notice, factual evidence, unobstructed

Torts, Negligence, Elements, Breach of Duty, Causation, Proximate Cause, General Overview, Proof, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Evidence, Admissibility, Expert Witnesses, Testimony, Expert Witnesses, Qualifications, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Procedural Matters, Rulings on Evidence, Preliminary Questions, Hearings Out of Jury's Presence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, De Novo Review, Genuine Disputes, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Province of Court & Jury