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CARDULLO v. GMC

July 16, 1974

LORI CARDULLO, a minor, By her parents and natural guardians, JOHN CARDULLO and LEONARDA CARDULLO, and JOHN CARDULLO and LEONARDA CARDULLO, in their own right
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

 This is a motion for new trial by plaintiffs.

 This suit arose out of a one car accident which occurred on June 8, 1969 in which wife plaintiff (Lee Cardullo), the driver, and minor plaintiff (Lori Cardullo) sustained injuries. The case was tried on liability only, the parties having agreed on the amount of the verdict ($225,000) in the event of a finding for plaintiffs. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant.

 It was plaintiffs' contention that defendant was liable under Restatement of Torts 2nd, § 402A, claiming that a defective ball joint had caused the right front wheel, backing plate, hub and steering knuckle to come off husband plaintiff's (John Cardullo) 1966 Corvair, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and to crash into a utility pole. Plaintiffs claimed also that defendant was guilty of negligence in design of the vehicle for failure to use a dual master cylinder brake system, rather than a single master cylinder brake system, contending that the dual master cylinder braking system would have prevented complete brake failure after the right front wheel left the automobile.

 The defense was, essentially, that (1) the right front wheel had separated from the vehicle as a result of the collision with the utility pole, rather than prior thereto, and (2) if any defective condition existed, it was due to substantial changes the vehicle had undergone subsequent to its manufacture. (The vehicle had been purchased used by John Cardullo when it had approximately 20,000 miles on the odometer.)

 Plaintiffs advance three grounds for new trial.

 1. The trial judge erred in charging the jury that the jury could draw an unfavorable inference from plaintiffs' failure to preserve the allegedly defective parts for trial.

 The accident happened on June 8, 1969. More than a month later, on July 10, 1969, John Cardullo signed a "Proof of Loss" claim form, enabling him to receive payment from his insurance carrier for the collision damage to his vehicle. As a result of the execution of the Proof of Loss, ownership of the damaged vehicle passed to Cardullo's insurance carrier. On July 14, 1969 plaintiffs' counsel made arrangements for an expert witness (Mr. Pruyn) to inspect the damaged parts. Plaintiffs' expert witness did so on July 16, 1969. Notwithstanding that counsel had been engaged and that a lawsuit was a distinct possibility, nothing was done by plaintiffs to preserve the vehicle, or any of its parts, for trial. Plaintiffs contend that since ownership of the damaged vehicle had passed from John Cardullo shortly after the accident, there is no showing that the evidence in question was under the control of plaintiffs at trial.

 It was left to the jury to determine whether, under the foregoing circumstances, John Cardullo was justified in disposing of the damaged vehicle to collect insurance and had offered a satisfactory explanation for the failure to preserve material evidence. The jury was properly instructed that if the explanation offered was unsatisfactory, the jury was permitted, but not required, to draw the inference that the evidence would have been unfavorable to plaintiffs' claim.

 2. The trial judge erred in permitting an unlisted witness to testify.

 Defendant called James Benjamin as a witness to testify concerning measurements of various distances at the accident scene. Mr. Benjamin was not listed as a witness in the pretrial memorandum of either party. Over the objection of plaintiffs' counsel, he was permitted to testify.

 Local Rule 7(b) provides:

 
"Except for witnesses called on rebuttal or surrebuttal, a witness neither (1) named in any pre-trial memorandum or supplements thereto of any party, nor (2) authorized by the court in order to prevent manifest injustice, may not testify at the trial if timely objection is made by opposing counsel."

 Plaintiffs assert that Benjamin's testimony came as a complete surprise to them and that they were unprepared to offer ...


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