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Win in Appellate Division for Fair Jury Selection

Win in Appellate Division for Fair Jury Selection

On Wednesday, February 15, 2017, the Appellate Division issued a decision in the case of Heredia v. Piccininni ordering a new trial because the court below failed to conduct full and fair voir dire during jury selection.

The Appellate Division agreed with Barry.Corrado.Grassi & Gillin-Schwartz, PC attorney Oliver Barry, who authored the legal brief and argued the appeal before the court, that the trial court’s failure to question potential jurors deprived the parties of a fair trial and necessitated reversal.  Attorneys Dan Rosner and Ed Tucker of Rosner & Tucker, P.C. in Vineland, New Jersey and Frank Corrado of Barry.Corrado.Grassi & Gillin-Schwartz, P.C. were also instrumental in the drafting of the appellate briefs and preparing for argument.

Voir dire is the process before trial where potential jurors are questioned to determine if can be fair and unbiased based on the facts and issues in a particular case.  The New Jersey Supreme Court issued mandatory directive 4-07, which requires that judges ask open-ended questions of each juror as part of the process.  This requirement is critical to the parties because it gives the attorneys involved a chance to explore whether potential jurors possess any implicit bias that might affect their ability to impartially consider the case.

Going forward, this decision will help litigants on both sides of the aisle get a fair shake by ensuring a comprehensive and open jury selection process.

Oliver Barry is an associate at Barry.Corrado.Grassi & Gillin-Schwartz, PC who focuses his practice in civil litigation generally, personal injury, employment discrimination, and civil rights litigation.  Learn more about Mr. Barry and the rest of our team here or contact us here to setup a free consultation.

The Death of He v. Miller

In Cuevas v. Wentworth Group, New Jersey Supreme Court overrules bad precedent and reaffirms the sanctity of jury verdicts against motions for additur and remittitur.

This Monday September 19, 2016, in the case of Ramon Cuevas v. Wentworth Group, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed course on permitting judges to decide motions for addittur and remittitur based on their feelings and experience with other cases.  This is a big deal and a very good decision.  

So, what exactly are additur and remittitur?To help explain why, consider the following example. Picture that your favorite NFL team is playing in the Superbowl.  They are clearly the underdogs throughout the game but fight and scrap to keep it close throughout. Then, right before time runs out they score a touchdown on a 100 to 1 odds Hail-Mary pass to win the game!

Next imagine that the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell, changed the score because he had a feeling that the game should have turned out differently.  And it was completely within his power to do so.

It sounds ridiculous when you think about it, right?  In the context of legal disputes, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that trial judges could do just that in the 2009 decision in the case of Ming Yu He v. Miller.

In the legal world, after a jury has reached a money verdict in a civil case the parties have the power to ask the judge to reduce or increase the verdict.  This is called additur and remittitur.  Jury verdicts are given a lot of deference and weight and traditionally these requests were only granted in the rarest of circumstances when the a verdict was so out of proportion to what happened that it “shocked the conscience.”

In the 2009 He v. Miller case, the New Jersey Supreme Court instructed judges to, among other things, rely on their experience as a judge and attorney.  While this may sound innocent, it is a ludicrous standard.  Putting aside that many judges did not have any significant experience as litigators before putting on their robes, this standard lets judges disturb the sanctity of jury verdicts without regard to the facts and records of a particular case based on how the judge felt it should have ended.  This is like Goodell changing the score after the Superbowl because he felt that the game should have ended differently.

Thankfully, on September 19, 2016, in the case of Ramon Cuevas v. Wentworth Group, the New Jersey Supreme Court implicitly overruled He v. Miller. The Cuevas decision, authored by Justice Albin who also wrote the dissent in He v. Miller, reiterated that for the judge to alter a jury verdict it must shock the conscience.  And that, while prior case law suggested that a judge should apply his own feel or experience, this “is not a sound or workable approach.”  The court noted a trial judge’s experiences are not part of the evidence or record in the case at issue and concluded that motions for remittitur “cannot depend on the happenstance of the personal experiences of the trial or appellate judges assigned to a particular case” as judges must administer “to the extent humanly possible… an objective legal standard.”

This is an important decision — whatever ideas people may have about lawyers or lawsuits — the fact remains that trial by jury is one of the founding principles of our great nation.  As Thomas Jefferson famously stated “trial by jury [is] the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court removed a potential threat to the sanctity of the jury system.  It may have been a threat that they themselves created, but hats off to them none the less.

You’ve been injured in a car accident. What happens now?

You are hurt in a car accident, either as a driver, passenger, or a pedestrian.  Maybe its your fault, maybe its someone else’s fault, maybe its not clear yet.  What happens now?

First thing first, take care of your safety and health first.  Get appropriate medical attention!  But this is a legal article and we are going to talk about the laws that matter in this situation.  In this situation, there’s basically 4 things you have to worry about: (1) PIP insurance; (2) liability insurance; (3) uninsured motorist coverage; and (4) the verbal threshold.   We will cover each topic in depth later separately, so for now we’ll stick to a basic rundown of these issues.

PIP Insurance

In a simple sense, there are three types of coverage on a New Jersey car insurance policy.  PIP is short for “personal injury protection” coverage.  You also hear them called medical benefits or no-fault benefits.  Regardless of who was at fault for an accident, your own PIP benefits are primary to pay for any necessary medical treatment.  Unfortunately, doctors have to jump through a lot of procedural hoops to get treatments and tests approved by the car insurance carrier.  That’s why its important to make sure that your doctors accept PIP and have staff that can navigate getting the necessary treatment your doctor recommends approved by your insurance company.

Liability Insurance

Realistically, most people don’t have the money or assets readily available to pay for medical care or for a judgement against them if they are at fault and hurt someone, which is why we are all required to have car insurance.  Even if you get a judgment against someone individually, if they don’t have the money to pay it then its not worth the paper its printed on.  However, not all car insurance policies in New Jersey carry liability insurance.  And depending on the type of policy at issue, it might cover as little as 10 to 15 thousand in coverage.  While that sounds like a lot of money in the abstract, its nothing when that is all that is available to compensate someone for a serious injury or a family for the death of a loved one.  That is why UM/UIM insurance, discussed to the right, is so important.

UM/UIM Insurance

Another type of car insurance coverage is called uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.  Think of it as safety net coverage.  If the person responsible for injuring you doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough liability insurance considering your injury, your own insurance policy will act or pretend as if its the other person’s insurance to provide a source of recovery.  However, insurance carriers fight just as hard against their own policyholders to prevent paying out on claims as they would against anyone else.  What’s more, there are different deadlines and rules that may apply in uninsured motorist claims that effect the amount of coverage available, who its available to, and what legal standards apply.  So its very important that you consult with a lawyer who understands this area of law.

The Verbal Threshold

Ok, so you were injured in a car accident.  The other driver was clearly at fault and his insurance company has admitted it.  What happens next is a combination of the insurance company claiming either that your injuries aren’t permanent or, if they are, they are due to something other than the accident.  That’s because New Jersey drivers are subject to something called the verbal threshold, a.k.a. limit on lawsuit option, unless they elect to pay more to get out of it.  This threshold is a hurdle that accident victims have to jump over to receive compensation for their injuries.  And insurance companies use it to delay, deny, and defend claims sometimes for years.

It bars the recovery of non-economic damages to cases of death, serious scarring or disfigurement, loss of a fetus, or any permanent injury that you can demonstrate with objective medical evidence.  What this means is that you could be horribly and painfully injured and not recover for years.  But if you are subject to the verbal threshold, that means you are barred from bringing a lawsuit because your injuries weren’t permanent.  And even if they are permanent, the insurance company defending the lawsuit will hire a doctor to conclude that your injuries aren’t permanent, were from some other accident, or were just age related.

The New Jersey verbal threshold is a really tough law.  And there’s no guarantee as to how things will work out or how long medical treatment or a lawsuit will take.  The only sure thing is that you need experienced professionals to help you navigate this process and protect your rights.

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the law office of Barry.Corrado.Grassi & Gillin-Schwartz, P.C. for a free consultation to learn about your rights.

Know Your Rights
If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the law office of Barry.Corrado.Grassi & Gillin-Schwartz, P.C. for a free consultation to learn about your rights.

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