Wrongful Death – Tree Falls on Car Killing Driver
Estate of Niler v. Twp. of Millburn:
Submitted by New Jersey Wrongful Death Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
On or about July 10, 2015, decedent was driving along a road intersecting with the South Mountain Reservation. The South Mountain Reservation is owned and maintained by Essex County. While decedent was driving, a tree in the South Mountain Reservation fell over and landed on her car. She was impaled by the tree’s branch and trapped in the driver seat of her car. Though she was not immediately killed, she suffered a serious abdominal injury, multiple contusions and abrasions to various areas of her body. An autopsy would later conclude the cause of death was “blunt impact injuries to the torso.”
Police and fire who responded to the scene concluded that they could not access decedent until the tree was removed, although they were able to administer oxygen. Plaintiff’s expert disagreed with the first responders’ contention that they could not access decedent through the passenger door due to downed power lines. The firefighters were unaware that the branch that had impaled decedent had broken off from the tree and was being held in place by a seatbelt. When firefighters removed the tree and the doors of the vehicle, decedent’s seatbelt loosened and the tree branch fell from her wound, causing her to bleed profusely and lose consciousness. The firefighters testified that had they known the branch had broken off, they would have taken different measures to remove decedent from the vehicle.
Plaintiff filed the present wrongful death action, alleging that aid was not properly given or was improperly given. Plaintiff sought to bar defendant’s expert reports for noncompliance with Rule 702, arguing that the experts lacked sufficient expertise and that their opinions were insufficiently reliable. According to Rule 702, and DeHanes v Rothman, 158 N.J. 90, 100 (1999), three elements must be met before expert testimony can be admitted: (1) the testimony must concern a subject matter that is beyond the knowledge of the average juror; (2) the expert’s testimony must be sufficient reliable; and (3) the expert must have sufficient expertise in the field of study. Pursuant to Rule 702, “[if] scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.” Defendant sought to bar plaintiff’s economics report because it was not produced in discovery and plaintiff’s causation report for the expert’s lack of qualifications. y. According to the Defendant, this violates Rule 4:24-1(b) and the Court’s Order establishing a discovery schedule, including the production of expert reports. Thus, if the report is utilized at trial, it would unduly prejudice Defendant. See N.J.R.E. 403.
The court denied plaintiff’s motion, finding that plaintiff’s objections were better addressed on cross-examination. The court ruled that present circumstances would permit defendant time to review plaintiff’s economics report and that defendant should address its concerns as to plaintiff’s causation expert on cross-examination.
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