Gonzalez-Caceres v. Murray, Appeals Court Standard of Review.
Submitted by New Jersey motor vehicle accident lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In this case there are several issues to analyze and discuss. Factually, this case addresses a plaintiff’s pre-and post car accident history relative to the subject of the lawsuit. The defense attorney asked questions about a plaintiff’s driving history in front of the jury in an effort to show the plaintiff was involved in 5 other accident after this accident, regardless of fault, so this accident was his fault too!, or rather, he was just a bad driver who get rear-ended all the time by tractor trailers. The first issues of the appellate court’s ability and standard of review for a trial court’s denial of a motion for a New Trial. Here the court very specifically outlines the standard of review and deference to the trial judge’s ‘feel of the case’.
“We begin with basic principles. Rule 4:49-1(a) provides that a trial judge shall grant a new trial if, “having given due regard to the opportunity of the jury to pass upon the credibility of the witnesses, it clearly and convincingly appears that there was a miscarriage of justice under the law.” Jury verdicts are thus “entitled to considerable deference and ‘should not be overthrown except upon the basis of a carefully reasoned and factually supported (and articulated) determination, after canvassing the record and weighing the evidence, that the continued viability of the judgment would constitute a manifest denial of justice.'” Risko v. Thompson Muller Auto. Grp., Inc., 206 N.J. 506, 521 (2011) (quoting Baxter v. Fairmont Food Co., 74 N.J. 588, 597-98 (1977)); see also Boryszewski v. Burke, 380 N.J. Super. 361, 391 (App. Div. 2005) (“Jury verdicts should be set aside in favor of new trials only with great reluctance, and only in cases of clear injustice.”), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 242 (2006).
In reviewing a trial judge’s decision on a motion for a new trial, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Caldwell v. Haynes, 136 N.J. 422, 432 (1994). We give substantial deference to the trial judge on those matters related to his or her observations during the trial, and their “feel of the case.” Carrino v. Novotny, 78 N.J. 355, 360 n.2 (1979) (citing Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, Comment to R. 2:10-1 at 301-02 (1979)). We do not accord deference, however, to a trial judge’s determination “with respect to which he is no more peculiarly situated to decide than the appellate court.” Dolson v. Anastasia, 55 N.J. 2, 7 (1969).