Ernest Fronzuto Speaks on Evidence at New Jersey Association for Justice Seminar
Distinguished New Jersey Civil Litigation Attorney Ernest P. Fronzuto, the founder of Fronzuto Law Group, will serve as a presenter at the upcoming New Jersey Association for Justice Winter Seminar, “Hot Topics in Evidence,” to be held on February 28, 2019. As a respected legal authority in the realm of plaintiff’s litigation in New Jersey, Mr. Fronzuto has been called upon to support continuing legal education in this area of law. His presentation, entitled “The Boundaries of Common Knowledge: When is an Expert Required and When does Res Ipsa Apply?,” will address the necessity for – or lack thereof – expert testimony in NJ injury lawsuits. So what is res ipsa and what does it mean when pursuing legal action for injuries caused by negligence in New Jersey? Let’s take a look.
Proving Negligence in a New Jersey Injury Case
When a plaintiff (the injured party) brings a lawsuit for injuries caused by another party, the plaintiff is responsible for proving negligence on the part of the defendant. In order for negligence to exist, the defendant must have failed to exercise appropriate care, ultimately leading to the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, if a building manager fails to shovel snow or salt an icy walkway outside of your apartment building and you slip and fall, the manager’s failure to mitigate this hazard would constitute negligence.
In general, proving a specific act of negligence requires direct evidence. The most relevant and effective forms of evidence can vary significantly among individual injury cases. For example, physical evidence may be useful in a claim involving a defective product. Likewise, evidence from the scene of an accident may be used to demonstrate who was at fault. Similarly, documentation in the form of medical records are an integral part of medical negligence claims. Witnesses can also provide necessary substantiation when seeking to establish the sequence of events that led up to the plaintiff’s injuries.
The Need for Experts to Prove Negligence in NJ
Across various types of injury litigation, one or more experts may be called upon to support the plaintiff’s claim that the defendant acted negligently. However, there are certain circumstances under which expert testimony is not required. One notable exception is known as the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
Under the doctrine of res ipsa, the jury in an injury case is allowed to assume that a specific negligent act occurred if:
- The occurrence itself ordinarily bespeaks negligence;
- The instrumentality causing the harm was in the exclusive control of the defendant; and
- The circumstances do not indicate that plaintiff’s own act or neglect caused the injury.
In other words, the circumstances surrounding the event itself would lead to a reasonable assumption that negligence occurred. Further, the defendant was solely responsible for the means by which the injury was caused. Lastly, the plaintiff was utterly innocent in the situation and did not contribute to their own harm. This stands in stark contrast to, for example, a car accident case in which the plaintiff was partially at fault.
Why Common Knowledge Matters in NJ Liability Claims
While the above requirements seem rather self-explanatory, there is ongoing debate over res ipsa’s first prong: whether the occurrence itself ordinarily bespeaks negligence. To fulfill this criteria, the court must decide that the jury has sufficient common knowledge and experience to assume that negligence occurred without the need for expert testimony. The issue at hand is not whether the defendant failed to act with due care, but that a lay juror (or average Joe) has enough common knowledge to determine that the accident would not have occurred but for a failure of due care on the part of the defendant.
New Jersey courts have yet to establish a uniform rule regarding res ipsa and the need for expert testimony in injury cases. To date, courts determine the necessity for expert testimony and applicability of the res ipsa doctrine on an individual case basis.
What Res Ipsa Means if You Have Been Injured in New Jersey
You have suffered harm and are interested in bringing a claim for negligence to obtain damages for your injuries. So why is res ipsa important? Although this doctrine does not shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant, it does shift the burden of producing evidence. The doctrine is grounded in the fundamental assumption that in all probability, the accident would not have occurred had the defendant upheld their duty of care. Res ipsa infers negligence based on the fundamental nature of the event or injury without direct evidence to attest to the defendant’s conduct. Ultimately, if res ipsa applies in your injury case, you can often prevent a dismissal based on lack of direct proof of negligence.
At Fronzuto Law Group, we understand that the complexities of the law can be overwhelming. The attorneys at our firm have years of experience successfully navigating through the minefield of injury lawsuits in New Jersey and we can help. Allow us to deal with the legal jargon, procedural rules, and court requirements while you focus on what matters most: recovering from your injuries. We are happy to answer your questions regarding a specific personal injury case. Simply call us anytime at 973-435-4551 for a free consultation.
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