A prominent New Jersey personal injury case, Tomasi v. ShopRitewas recently settled on February 25, 2019. As the case details, Woodbridge resident Michael Tomasi slipped on grapes in the produce department of ShopRite in Woodbridge, NJ in December of 2015. While he did not directly fall onto the ground, Tomasi had to contort his body in an unnatural position in order to brace himself from further injury. Following the slip, Tomasi immediately experienced strong neck pain.
Since Tomasi already suffered from a pre-existing neck injury, the slip escalated his current conditions. As a result, he needed two surgeries. One of these surgeries was a spinal fusion surgery, which is known to be particularly intensive. According to the plaintiffs (Michael Tomasi and his wife Alison), ShopRite was responsible for cleaning the aisles of the store in order to maintain the safety of shoppers.
As with other tort and negligence cases, assessing the legal liability of the accused party can be accomplished by evaluating four critical elements of a personal injury case. These elements are duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty is the term used to acknowledge one party’s legal or contractual obligation to another party. In the case of a Tomasi’s fall, ShopRite had a legal duty to provide a safe environment for patrons of the store.
The breach of duty occurs when one party breaches their duty of care to the other party. In the case of Tomasi, ShopRite breached their duty of care to Tomasi by neglecting to keep the aisles of their store intact.
The third element required in a wrongful death case is causation. Essentially, the court must be able to reasonably infer that the accused party’s breach of duty directly caused the injury of the other party. For example, Tomasi’s team of attorneys had to prove that without ShopRite’s negligence, Tomasi would not have slipped and furthered his pre-existing neck injury.
The final element of a personal injury case is damages. The state of New Jersey follows a modified comparative fault rule. Under this system, the party that is more than 50% cannot recover damages. On the other hand, the party that is less than 50% at fault (for example, 49% at fault) may recover those proportions of the damages. In addition to these compensatory damages, New Jersey personal injury settlements can also include unlimited damages for pain and suffering, which is considered a non-economic damage. Pain and suffering is deduced by considering how the injured party’s daily routine will be altered, lifestyle factors that are affected by the injury – such as sleep, and how the injury will impact the injured party in the long term.
The only damages that are capped for personal injury cases in New Jersey are punitive damages. Punitive damages are those that are intended to punish the party-at-fault for particularly hostile and/or dangerous behavior. In New Jersey, these punitive damages are capped at five times the compensatory damages or at $350,000 depending on which figure is larger in the particular case.