MARY C. DUTTON, ETC. VS. STEPHEN V. RANDO (L-6051-13, ATLANTIC COUNTY AND STATEWIDE) (A-1049-16T1)
MARY C. DUTTON, ETC. VS. STEPHEN V. RANDO (L-6051-13, ATLANTIC COUNTY AND STATEWIDE) (A-1049-16T1) This appeal arises from a tragic highway collision in which defendant Stephen Rando's sports utility vehicle fatally struck plaintiff's son, Patrick Dutton, as he was riding his bicycle. Following a trial, the jury found that defendant was sixty percent responsible for the accident while Patrick was responsible for the remaining forty percent. The jury awarded plaintiff Mary Dutton, representing her son's estate, $500,000 in wrongful death damages and $108,000 in survivorship damages. The trial court entered judgment in the sum of $364,800 in damages and additional interest, fees, and costs.
Defendant appeals from the judgment memorializing the verdict and from the trial court's order denying his motion for a new trial. Among other things, defendant contends that the jury's award of wrongful death damages is unsupported by the evidence, particularly without any expert testimony to substantiate the pecuniary value of the loss of Patrick's advice, guidance, and companionship. This court rejects defendant's contention and reaffirms the long-standing principle, as expressed in Lesniak v. County of Bergen, 117 N.J. 12, 32-33 (1989), that expert testimony is not required to establish the pecuniary value of such services in claims for wrongful death. This holding is consistent with the common law in the fourteen other jurisdictions that, like New Jersey, restrict recovery in wrongful death actions to pecuniary loss, but do not require expert testimony to substantiate damages.