Personal Injury Case Involving Product Liability – Potentially Faulty Seatbelt
Docket No.: A-5358-17T2
Decided September 1, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision, the Appellate Division considered whether failure to timely produce a liability expert report was appropriate grounds for granted defendant’s summary judgment motion and ultimately dismissing plaintiff’s product’s liability complaint.
In Reznik, Plaintiff Sofya Reznik was injured when the Acura TSX she was driving collided with another vehicle after she made an unsafe left turn. She contends Honda defectively designed and manufactured her vehicle’s seatbelt and airbag. As a result, she alleged the seatbelt broke, and the deployed airbag emitted particles that triggered an infection, which caused other medical problems.
Several months after we reinstated the complaint, the court set deadlines for completing discovery. The court’s November 28, 2017, case management order required, among other things, that Reznik appear to complete her deposition by December 15, 2017; depose a Honda corporate designee by January 15, 2018; and produce expert reports by January 20, 2018. Trial was set for March 19, 2018. Six days before the April 30, 2018 expert report deadline, Reznik’s counsel asked the court by letter for a one-month extension. Counsel cited “the nature and complexity of the issues involved with respect to both liability and damages.” Honda opposed the request in a responding letter and the court denied the extension.
On the day by which her experts’ reports were due, Reznik filed a formal motion to extend discovery one month. Counsel certified that plaintiff had engaged a liability expert and asserted he would need less than a month more time to complete a report. He did not disclose when the expert was retained. He also stated that Reznik had retained two physicians as damage experts, who said they would complete their reports in a month. Counsel asserted the experts would continue their work while the motion was pending. Reznik separately certified that the liability expert could not prepare his report until Honda’s corporate designee was deposed.
Honda moved for summary judgment, contending that expert reports were essential to prove plaintiff’s case.
By the time the court heard the competing motions on June 15, 2018, Reznik had supplied both damage experts’ reports however, Reznik produced no liability expert report. Her counsel also conceded at oral argument that he no longer sought the corporate designee’s deposition. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendant for failure to produce a liability expert report, and thus denied the motion to extend discovery.
Plaintiff Reznik appealed, arguing she met the “exceptional circumstances” test to justify the extension for discovery. The Appellate Division found the plaintiff proved only 1 of 4 factors, that the report was essential for her case. However, she failed to show why the report had not been produced within the discovery period, why counsel had waited until the day before it was due to file the motion to extend, and failed to identify the circumstances beyond her and her counsel’s control that necessitated an extension.
The Appellate Division also discussed exploitation of evidence, not discussed here.
This case is important for all personal injury plaintiffs. Expert reports are necessary in all personal injury cases, with few exceptions. This usually includes, at the very least, a medical or economic expert to show damages. This could also include a liability expert, for cases like product liability where it would be too difficult to prove a case without use of an expert. It is vital for your counsel to understand deadlines, and begin hiring appropriate experts well before the discovery deadlines approach, to ensure your case does not get dismissed prematurely. These experts will also help bolster your claim for personal injury, if the right experts are chosen.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a product liability, slip and fall, motor vehicle accident, truck crash, wrongful death, or other premises related injury, you need to make sure you contact a personal injury attorney with experience today. Failing to consider these issues could result in your case be dismissed permanently. Do not hesitate to contact Hark & Hark today to discuss your personal injury.
For personal injury matters, you pay nothing upfront, and our fee is paid as a percentage of your recovery. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.