New Jersey Superior Court App. Div. addresses the scope of damages available to displaced homeowner
Insurance law attorney Jared Stolz comments on Certain Underwriters at Lloyds Subscribing to Policy Plh-0013397 v. Public Service Electric and Gas, a recent decision from the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.
"In February 2014, a winter storm caused a high-voltage power line in Willingboro belonging to defendant Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) to fall and ignite fires in plaintiffs' homes; they were displaced from their homes for ten months." Plaintiffs already received reimbursement from their own insurance company for repair costs and motel stay, but sued PSE&G for loss of use of the home, emotional distress, and personal injuries.
"In managing the case, the trial judge bifurcated the issues and first considered PSE&G's liability. In January 2018, a jury found PSE&G liable for the occurrence. A month later, PSE&G moved for summary judgment, arguing plaintiffs were undamaged beyond the compensation provided by their insurers. The motion judge agreed and entered judgment for PSE&G." Plaintiffs timely appealed.
The appellate court noted that scope of damages has been addressed in other contexts. For example, a plaintiff whose car was stolen while being repaired could pursue damages for loss of the vehicle's use. Thus, the Court concluded "that the mere fact that plaintiffs were provided motel rooms and reimbursed meal and transportation costs by their insurance carriers did not foreclose their right to seek other damages resulting from the loss of the use of their homes or any other reasonable damages caused by the inconvenience. Damages in such circumstances 'are not limited to pecuniary losses which are capable of precise measurement.'"
The Court also rejected PSE&G's argument that there was insufficient evidence to support inconvenience. One plaintiff discussed the inconvenience of multiple moves due to insurance issues and spent Thanksgiving at a hotel. That plaintiff also died prior to trial, without access to items of personal value. That plaintiff's daughter gave premature birth to a child during the motel stay, adding to the inconvenience. Thus, the Court held "that damages based on loss of use or inconvenience are largely unique to the plaintiff and ultimately turn on the factfinder's view of each plaintiff's circumstances."
The case is Certain Underwriters at Lloyds Subscribing to Policy Plh-0013397 v. Public Service Electric and Gas, (A-4128-17T4)
*** Jared Elliott Stolz is an attorney in New Jersey, focusing on insurance law and litigation. He is the managing partner of Stolz and Associates.
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Jared Stolz, Esq., New Jersey