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Curtis v. Finneran

Supreme Court of New Jersey
417 A.2d 15 (1980)


Facts

Robert Finneran (defendant) was driving a car in which Ronald Curtis was riding as a passenger. Finneran fell asleep while driving and struck a guardrail. Curtis was killed instantly. Curtis’s estate (plaintiff) sued Finneran under New Jersey’s wrongful death statute, seeking funeral expenses and damages for the net pecuniary loss suffered by Curtis’s two sons. At trial, Dr. Matiyahu Marcus, an economics professor, provided testimony regarding the children’s net pecuniary loss. Marcus added together Curtis’s likely earnings from the time of his death until the time his sons would be financially independent. From this sum, Marcus subtracted the amount that Curtis would have likely spent on himself, over the same period. Marcus concluded that Curtis’s sons were deprived of earnings of $199,000. The trial was a bench trial. The trial judge believed that Marcus’s testimony was speculative, and without explanation awarded Curtis’s estate just $53,000 in damages. The trial court might have taken into account the support Curtis’s sons would have required when it calculated the damages award. Curtis’s estate moved for a new trial. The court denied this motion, but amended its damages award to include an additional $13,000 for attorneys’ fees. Curtis’s estate appealed. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s addition of attorneys’ fees, reducing the award to the original $53,000. The supreme court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Pollock, J.)

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