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New Theory Of Liability At Summary Judgment Phase Disallowed (NJ)


February 18, 2022 at 4:38:08 PM

<p style="text-align: justify;">The matter of <em><a href="">Stewart v. New Jersey Turnpike Authority</a></em> was recently decided by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  In that matter, the plaintiff motorcyclists were injured after a motorcycle accident involving no other vehicles.  The collective plaintiffs alleged throughout litigation that they lost control of the motorcycle when they struck a piece of metal in a bridge’s expansion joint that jutted out of the roadway.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">After seven discovery extensions, all of which were all requested by the plaintiffs, and in response to the Turnpike Authority’s motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff’s changed the story (i.e. theory of liability).  They argued, for the first time, that the defendants failed to properly pave a portion of the roadway, and that this failure caused the accident.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The trial court did not look kindly upon the plaintiffs.  Indeed, the trial court did not consider their new argument and granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment pursuant to the Tort Claims Act which generally shields public entities from liability.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The appellate division reversed by entertaining the new theory of liability and holding that genuine issues of fact existed.  Upon review, the Supreme Court swiftly reversed the appellate division’s decision and held that the new theory of liability should not have been considered and, and, even if it was considered, the new theory did not raise any material issues of fact.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This case from the Supreme Court will be helpful for defense attorneys who are faced with untimely disclosures of theories of liability which were not previously disclosed during discovery.  Pursuant to the Court’s holding, plaintiffs cannot simply change their theory of liability after years of discovery to spring a last minute surprise.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Mike Noblett for his contribution to this article.  If you have any questions, contact <a href="">Matthew Care</a>.</p>

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