Don’t Forget or Overlook the Basics
In my earlier blog today we discussed the facts of this case and the need for expert testimony to prove certain aspects of the case in order to get to the jury and past a summary judgment motion. in this case the plaintiff fell in a hole next to a new guard rail installed on the side of the road. Plaintiff sued all the parties involved in the installation, but no expert, or no proofs, were provided outlining a) what these parties duty was, b) how they breached their duty, c) the relationship between the breached duty, and the damages suffered to plaintiff. At the conclusion of the ‘discovery’ period the defense attorney filed their classic ‘summary judgment’ motion to have the case dismissed because plaintiff had not met his/her ‘burden of proof’ even after given every benefit of factual doubt. The trial and appellate court outlined the straight forward burden of proof plaintiff was required to satisfy at the summary judgment level. As a result of plaintiff’s failure to satisfy these basis elements of long established tort law the case was thrown out at the summary judgment stage and never got to the jury. My other blog addressed how the following elements need to be satisfied by an expert because the issues were beyond the normal knowledge of a jury and had to be taught to them by an expert; and without such an expert plaintiff did not meet it’s evidentiary burden. In this blog, we are discussing the basis elements of a personal injury case and the four parts that must be proven (whether by expert or fact witnesses in a normal straight forward car crash case). The court provided the following:
“‘[A] negligence cause of action requires the establishment of four elements: (1) a duty of care, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) actual and proximate causation, and (4) damages.'” Davis, supra, 219 N.J. at 406 (quoting Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Melcar Util. Co., 212 N.J. 576, 594 (2013)). Plaintiff bears “‘the burden of establishing those elements by some competent proof.'” Townsend, supra, 221 N.J. at 51 (quoting Davis, supra, 219 N.J. at 406). Simply showing the occurrence of an incident causing the injury sued upon is not alone sufficient to support a finding of an incident of negligence. Long v. Landy, 35 N.J. 44, 54 (1961). “Negligence is a fact which must be shown and which will not be presumed.” Ibid. “In an ordinary negligence case, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing the unreasonableness of the defendant’s conduct (in other words, the defendant’s breach of a duty owed).” Feldman v. Lederle Lab., 132 N.J. 339, 349-50 (1993). “A duty is an obligation imposed by law requiring one party ‘to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another.'” Acuna v. Turkish, 192 N.J. 399, 413 (2007) (quoting Prosser & Keeton on Torts: Lawyer’s Edition § 53, at 356 (5th ed. 1984)), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 813, 129 S. Ct. 44, 172 L. Ed. 2d 22 (2008); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 4 (1965) (“The word ‘duty’ . . . denote[s] the fact that the actor is required to conduct himself in a particular manner at the risk that if he does not do so he becomes subject to liability to another to whom the duty is owed for any injury sustained by such other, of which that actor’s conduct is a legal cause.”). As a matter of law, whether a duty of care exists “is generally a matter for a court to decide,” not a jury. Acuna, supra, 192 N.J. at 413.