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Jersey Central Power & Light loses appeal of $650,000 verdict to woman who fell in hole

By Dee Thompson | Dec 28, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – A New Jersey appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling awarding $650,000 in damages to a homeowner who fell in a hole left by a power company worker on her property.

Nancy Jacobs v. Jersey Central Power & Light was argued before the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division on Nov. 13 and decided on Dec. 7.

In arguing for a new trial, the power company raised multiple claims of trial error, saying among other things that “the court should have  issued a directed verdict for JCP & L on liability because plaintiff did not present a liability expert on utility industry standards; plaintiff's orthopedic expert gave improper testimony; the court incorrectly excluded proof favorable to the defense;  the jury charge was flawed;  and the court should have granted the new trial motion,” according to the opinion.

The appellate court’s reasoning was that Jacobs was not injured by anything to do with electricity, but by a hole in the ground. 

“The judge rightly left it to the jury's common sense to decide the negligence issues, based on the evidence and general principles of reasonable care,” according to the opinion.

According to the opinion, in 2012, the plaintiff and her boyfriend (now husband) noticed that a streetlight had fallen over at the corner of the property owned by plaintiff Nancy Jacobs. Jersey Central Power & Light sent out a repair technician.

According to the appellate court’s opinion, “The employee disconnected the light, took the pole out of the ground, and rolled up and placed the leftover wires in the hole containing the base of the light. He covered the wires with soil, still leaving an indentation in the ground. He placed an orange safety cone over the hole, but the cone disappeared within a few days. JCP&L did not return promptly to repair the light or the hole.”

Two months later, Nancy Jacobs walked outside to get her mail, and stepped into the hole and fell, injuring her back and knee. Eventually she had surgery on her back and knee replacement surgery. She did not go back to work, the opinion states.

Jacobs sued Jersey Central Power & Light for lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering. In May 2016 there was a five-day jury trial. According to the appellate court’s opinion, “the jury found JCP&L 80 percent negligent and plaintiff 20 percent negligent. The jury awarded plaintiff $650,000 in damages, a sum the court molded to take into account her comparative fault. JCP&L moved for a new trial, which the trial judge denied in a detailed written opinion.”

The case was heard before judges Jack Sabatino, Mitchell Ostrer and Mary Gibbons Whipple.

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Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Divison