Wednesday, September 9, 2015
ANTHONY A. GONZALES VS. ELLEN I. HUGELMEYER, ET AL. A-2602-13T4
ANTHONY A. GONZALES VS. ELLEN I. HUGELMEYER, ET AL.
Because of multiple trial errors, we reverse the judgment in this automobile negligence case and remand for a new jury trial.
Extending State v. McLean, 205 N.J. 438, 460 (2011) (construing the lay opinion rule in N.J.R.E. 701) to a civil context, we hold that the trial court should have disallowed a State Trooper, who was not qualified as an expert witness, to provide and express to jurors his opinion concerning which driver was at fault in causing the accident. The court also erroneously permitted the Trooper to testify about and rely upon hearsay statements made to him by an unidentified eyewitness that he interviewed at the accident scene. The prejudice stemming from these errors was compounded by counsel's summation spotlighting this inadmissible evidence.
We further hold that the trial court erred in preventing defense counsel from moving into evidence the relevant office notes of plaintiff's treating physician, on the basis that the jury had already heard about plaintiff's treatment in the physician's testimony. The admission of the doctor's testimony does not preclude the admission of relevant portions of the notes.
Lastly, although not shown to be an independent basis for reversal here, we clarify this court's recent opinion in James v. Ruiz, 440 N.J. Super. 45, 73 n.17 (App. Div. 2015), regarding testimony from a chiropractor that discussed the hearsay MRI findings made by a non-testifying radiologist.