Negligence Which Caused Damage To Personal Property | Superstorm Sandy

Constantinopoulos v. Morgan Realty & Dev., LLC:

Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Plaintiff owned a house across an estuary from defendants’ marina. In October 2012, plaintiff’s home was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Plaintiff alleged that several boats from the marina struck his home. Plaintiff’s expert found that damage to unsecured boats at the marina that were carried away by storm surge suffered damage consistent with damaged caused from “repeatedly colliding with fixed objects” and that color transfers on the boards were consistent with paint and wood from plaintiff’s house. Plaintiff filed suit against defendants for negligence, alleging they failed to take reasonable measures to move the boats to safer ground or to properly secure them prior to Superstorm Sandy. This required plaintiff to prove four elements by a preponderance of the credible evidence:

  1. “a duty of care,
  2. a breach of that duty,
  3. proximate cause, and
  4. actual damages.”

Townsend v. Pierre, 221 N.J. 36, 51 (2015) (quoting Polzo v. Cty. of Essex, 196 N.J. 569, 584 (2008)). The legal issue that the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence was that the defendants were the proximate cause of the boats leaving the Marina which were the cause of his damages.

Prior to trial, plaintiff amended his interrogatories to include another expert report opining that defendants were “grossly negligent in failing to plan and to move and to secure the boats and their negligence caused the boats to float away during storm Sandy.” The trial court initially denied the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, ruling that a reasonable jury could conclude that defendants were negligent in their storm preparations. However, the trial court later granted defendants’ motion to bar plaintiff’s amended expert report as untimely. Because the compensation plaintiff had already received exceeded the damages he was seeking from defendants, the trial court dismissed the claim.

On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint, but for other reasons than those relied upon by the trial court. They reasoned that defendants were entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff did not prove that defendants’ alleged negligence was the proximate cause of his damages. The court ruled that plaintiff was obligated to have expert testimony on the extent and nature of precautions that would be reasonable to prevent damage during a hurricane, and he failed to provide a reasonable basis to conclude that if the boats had been secured by any of the means they suggested that this more likely than not would have prevented these two boats from breaking free in the storm surge caused by Superstorm Sandy. The court further held that the mere fact that the boats floated away was not evidence of negligence under res ipsa loquitor. “Res ipsa loquitor is an equitable doctrine that allows, in appropriate circumstances, a permissive inference of negligence to be drawn against a party who exercises exclusive control of an instrumentality that malfunctions and causes injury to another.” McDaid v. Aztec W. Condo. Ass’n, 234 N.J. 130, 135 (2018).

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the present case pertaining to negligence, which as a result caused damage to personal property. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation due to the negligence of another party, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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