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Plaintiff Able to Obtain Full Recovery of Verdict Against Defendant Tortfeasor Found to be 60% Negligent in Auto Case

By on July 2, 2021 in Claims with 0 Comments

The issue in the published Appellate Division decision in Carbajal v. Patel, 2021 N.J. LEXIS 73 (App. Div. June 2, 2021), was whether a plaintiff can obtain a full recovery of a jury verdict against a defendant found to be 60% negligent, when that defendant is unable to obtain contribution from the co-defendant found to be 40% negligent. The jury found the defendant Nancy Patel to be 60% negligent and the driver of a phantom vehicle to be 40% negligent in causing the automobile accident in which the plaintiff suffered injuries. The problem, however, was that the coverage for the phantom vehicle was under the plaintiff’s uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage and the amount of the UM policy limits were insufficient to cover the 40% of the jury verdict.

The jury awarded the plaintiff $200,000 in damages, with 60% responsibility assessed against defendant Patel and 40% responsibility assessed against the driver of the phantom vehicle. Under the Comparative Negligence Act (“CNA”), a plaintiff is entitled to full recovery of damages from a defendant found at least 60% at fault. Under the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law (“JTCL”), that defendant can then turn around and seek contribution from the amount paid in excess of his or her pro rata share from other joint tortfeasors also found at fault.

However, in this case, through no fault of the plaintiff, Patel was unable to obtain full contribution directly from the UM insurance carrier because the UM policy limits were only $15,000. After the verdict was rendered, the trial court judge molded the verdict and required Patel to pay 60% ($120,000) and ordered the UM insurance carrier to pay plaintiff $15,000, its UM policy limit. However, that shortchanged the plaintiff by $65,000, the balance of the jury’s $200,000 verdict.

The Plaintiff appealed this decision, arguing that a judgment should be entered allowing him full recovery, despite Patel’s inability to collect the 40% from the UM carrier. The Appellate Division agreed with the Plaintiff that he should have been permitted to obtain the entire award from Patel because she was found 60% responsible for the accident. The CNA permits a responsible defendant who pays more than his or her pro rata share to pursue other joint tortfeasors also at fault. However, the Court found that the other tortfeasor who was at fault was the driver of the phantom vehicle, not the UM insurance company.

Thus, the Appellate Division held that, despite Patel’s inability to obtain contribution in excess of her pro rata share of the jury verdict from the co-defendant UM carrier, Patel was still responsible to pay for the full verdict, less the UM insurance company’s policy limits of $15,000.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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