A Mercer County Jury awarded a woman $1.64 million dollars in damages as a result of injuries she sustained when she was locked in the Mercer Cemetery Park in Trenton, New Jersey on November 26, 2001. The Park can be accessed through two iron gates. The Park is open to the public on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Before locking the gates of the Cemetery, Park employees are to check to make sure no one is inside the Park prior to locking the gates. In this case, the Park gates were locked before 4:30 p.m., thereby locking the plaintiff inside. In order to exit the Cemetery, the plaintiff attempted to climb over a brick wall and drop to the ground outside. In attempting this exit, she fractured her right tibia. New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act requires plaintiff’s to demonstrate that public entity defendants acted “palpably unreasonably,” and that their injuries are permanent.
In this case the defendant, Mercer Cemetery Corporation, appealed the jury’s verdict claiming that the Trial Court applied the traditional ordinary negligence standard and not the more stringent “palpably unreasonable” standard. Both the Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court have ruled that in this case the “palpably unreasonable” standard should have been used by the Trial Court and the case has been remanded for retrial. Thus, the question for the jury at the time of retrial will be if the defendant in this case acted in a palpably unreasonable manner by locking this woman in the cemetery before the cemetery closed and without first checking to make sure nobody was in the cemetery before locking the iron gates. Interestingly, the New Jersey Supreme Court also determined that the jury’s award of $1.64 million dollars in damages was not excessive and refused to Order a new trial on the issue of damages.
If you have been injured in the State of New Jersey you have certain rights and may be entitled to a monetary damages award for your injury. Also, if your claim is against a Public Entity, as was the case here, you MUST put that entity on notice of your intent to file a claim within 90 days of the incident. Contact a New Jersey Personal Injury attorney at the law firm of Lependorf & Silverstein for a free consultation regarding your rights.