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New Jersey liability ruling for windshield obstruction: $473,000

Have you ever pulled up behind another driver at a Bergen County red light and seen a back window filled with toys, pillows, tissue boxes or stickers? The decorations or -- depending on how you view the items -- clutter block the driver's ability to see and violate New Jersey law 39:3-74 for windshield vision obstruction. It's a minor traffic offense that turned out to be a major factor in a recent liability decision.

A 52-year-old Hamilton woman suffered disabling injuries after she was hit by a car in 2006. The defendant claimed he checked his Ford Mustang's driving mirrors before switching lanes, but didn't see the pedestrian crossing the road until it was too late to stop. The jury determined a stuffed animal suspended from the car's rearview mirror partially blocked the man's vision.

The victim survived her injuries, although she was disabled by them and forced to undergo several surgeries. The woman died of unrelated causes in 2010. Her husband and the decedent's estate filed a claim against the Mustang driver for negligence.

The jury awarded damages totaling $473,000. The compensation was split between the estate and the surviving spouse, who was awarded $95,000 for the extreme change to his life due to the wife's disability. It's not uncommon for a spouse or other family to give up income or a career to care for an accident victim.

The New Jersey obstruction law applies to front windshields, too, where many drivers have placed GPS units, radar detectors or decorative items. Anything that obstructs vision while driving increases chances for car accidents, serious injuries and death. Car accessories are not worth someone else's life.

What matters in accident liability cases is whether a driver was negligent or reckless. Most drivers don't get behind the wheel with the intention of hurting another person. However, driver carelessness is enough reason for a jury to award damages.

Source: Times of Trenton, "Garfield stuffed animal hanging from rearview mirror in N.J. pedestrian crash leads to $473K jury verdict" Matt Dowling, Mar. 17, 2014

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