JUDGES REVERSE $10 MILLION VERDICT IN TORT CLAIM CASE. SAY JURY MIGHT HAVE BEEN INFLUENCED BY TESTIMONY ABOUT AN IMPROPER EMOTIONAL DISTRESS CLAIM.
A “tort claim” generally means a claim against someone based upon that someone’s wrongful act. More specifically, New Jersey has a tort claim law. That law deals with a tort claim brought against the government. Recently, a New Jersey appeals court interpreted the tort claim law.
The case was a tragic one. An 11-year-old boy drowned in Graydon Pool in Ridgewood. He was visiting from South Korea. The boy’s family sued Ridgewood for carelessness in allowing him to drown. A Bergen County jury awarded the parents $5 million for their emotional distress. The jury also awarded the victim’s family an additional $4 million for the boy’s own pain and suffering. Finally, the jury awarded $1 million to the family for loss of the child’s companionship.
Soon after the trial, the trial judge threw out the $5 million verdict for the parents’ emotional distress. The reason being that the family did not incur the $3600 in medical or psychological expenses required by the tort claim law to allow an emotional distress claim to proceed. However, the judge let the balance of the verdict stand. The family still had $5 million in compensation.
Unfortunately for the bereaved family, and appellate court took away the rest of the jury award. The appeals court ruled that testimony about the parents’ emotional distress may have influenced the jury into awarding the other damages. The judges ruled that the case would have to be retried from the beginning. A new jury will have to be impaneled.
I respectfully disagree with the appeals court ruling. There is no reason to assume that a jury could not distinguish between the different claims that the family was making. In the absence of firm evidence that the jury was confused, the remaining verdict should have stood.
You can read the appellate ruling here.