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Smith v. Whitaker
New Jersey Supreme Court
160 N.J. 221 (1999)
Helen Robbins was killed in a car crash when an oil truck hit her car. Robbins died instantly. The oil truck was owned by Coastal Oil Company (defendant) and was driven by Alan Whitaker (defendant), a Coastal employee. The crash was caused by malfunctioning brakes, which both Whitaker and Coastal were aware of. About a month prior to the crash, Coastal had also been cited by the police for safety violations related to Whitaker’s truck. Coastal did not provide any instruction to its drivers regarding brake safety or maintenance. Coastal also ignored regulatory record-keeping requirements for vehicle maintenance. Harold Smith (plaintiff) was the executor of Robbins’s estate and sued Coastal and Whitaker. The trial court held separate trials for the claims under the Wrongful Death Act and the Survivor’s Act. For the wrongful-death claim, the jury awarded damages of $44,117. For the Survivor’s Act, the jury awarded punitive damages of $1,250,000. Coastal and Whitaker appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Stein, J.)
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