Davidson v. Slater Injury Case: Limited Tort & Burden of Proof

I am a member of a group of New Jersey trial lawyers, “Association of Trial Lawyers of America – New Jersey”. We are a group of lawyers who join together and volunteer our time to fight for accident victims’ rights and improve the jury system.

This group (ATLA-NJ), includes my former employer, Daniel E. Rosner, Esq., who argued the case I am spotlighting in this blog entry – Davidson v. Slater – before the New Jersey Supreme Court in September, 2006. The verdict was decided in January, 2007. Read the summary below to understand what the case entailed and why it is important to you.

Davidson v. Slater deals with the New Jersey limited tort option and an accident victim’s burden of proving that a serious injury was not caused by aggravation of a pre-existing condition, but by a new injury caused by the defendant’s negligence. Ms. Davidson, the plaintiff, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Slater alleging negligence and seeking damages for pain and suffering.

As a result of a prior decision handed down in Polk v. Daconceicao by a New Jersey court in 1993, which stated that when an accident victim (Plaintiff) subject to the limited tort/verbal threshold restriction pleads aggravation of a pre-existing injury in an auto accident, the victim must present comparative medical report which separates the injury suffered in the present accident from ALL other previous injuries to the same part of the body.

The trial court in Davidson v. Slater, the trial court dismissed Ms. Davidson’s lawsuit because she had been injured in other accidents and did not provide a “comparative medical analysis” segregating the alleged injuries sustained in her 2003 accident (the accident in question) from all other injuries to the same body parts. This decision was appealed by the plaintiff to the New Jersey Appellate Division who reversed the trial court. The Appellate Division held that such a medical analysis was not required since the plaintiff did not plead an aggravation of a prior injury.

The New Jersey Supreme Court also rejected the defendant’s attempt to have this burden placed on the plaintiff claiming hers is a non-aggravation case. Furthermore, the high Court asserted that there is no such requirement existing under the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act of New Jersey.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey upheld the Appellate Court’s decision, but noted that even in a case where the plaintiff does not plead an aggravation, the defendant has the right to file a motion to keep the case from going to trial. If the defendant is successful in showing that defendant’s negligence was not related to the cause of the plaintiff’s serious or permanent injury, the plaintiff risks dismissal of his/her case. Further, if the plaintiff chooses not to produce a “comparative medical analysis” the plaintiff is at risk of failing to present a case strong enough to get to a jury.