DONNA CASSISE v. PLANTRONICS, INCAnnotate this Case
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-0
ONLINE PROPERTY MANAGEMENT,
LLC, IRONSTONE VILLAGE,
LLC, and LIGHTSOURCE
CONTRACTORS & ELECTRICAL, LLC,
November 5, 2014
Submitted October 28, 2014 Decided
Before Judges Reisner and Haas.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-3543-11.
Stephen Guice, attorney for appellant.
Zirulnik, Sherlock & Demille, attorneys for respondents Online Property Management LLC and Ironstone Village, LLC (Beth A. Wright, on the brief).
Testa, Heck, Scrocca & Testa, PA, attorneys for respondent Lighthouse Contractors & Electrical, LLC (Justin R. White, on the brief).
Plaintiff Donna Cassise appeals from a March 8, 2013 order granting summary judgment dismissing her personal injury lawsuit, and from an April 18, 2013 order denying her reconsideration motion. We affirm, substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Deborah Silverman Katz in her oral opinions issued on March 8 and April 18, 2013.
The facts can be stated briefly. Plaintiff alleged that she was injured by an electrical shock while using a telephone headset at work. She alleged that various defendants, including the building's owner and property manager and an electrical contractor, Lightsource Contractors & Electrical, LLC (Lightsource), were responsible for her injury.1 Plaintiff served an expert report in support of her claims. Defendants contended that the expert rendered a net opinion. The trial court agreed.
The trial court's opinion, and our own conclusions, can best be understood by summarizing the expert's report. The report noted, as background, that plaintiff asserted she was placing a call using her headset when she heard a thunderclap and felt a stinging pain in her ear. Her coworker felt a tingling sensation through her computer keyboard. From those facts, the expert concluded that plaintiff's injury was caused by a lightning strike near the building. Plaintiff had also stated that, unlike the other electronics nearby, her electronics were plugged into a wall outlet instead of a power strip. The expert opined that was why plaintiff received a significant shock while her coworker escaped injury.
The expert recited that the National Electrical Code required that building wiring be "suitably grounded." Then, without further analysis, he opined that the building's electrical system, and in particular, the wiring of the wall receptacle into which plaintiff's equipment was plugged, was inadequate to contain the voltage from a lightning strike. His only factual support for that opinion was an invoice from Lightsource stating that on April 27, 2009, one of its employees installed "two wall outlets falling out of the walls in the first floor Medical offices." Based on that invoice, the expert opined that the electric shock to plaintiff's ear was caused by the deficiently grounded electrical wiring system of the office building.
The expert did not visit the building or examine the wall outlet into which plaintiff's electronic equipment was plugged. Plaintiff did not produce evidence that the Lightsource invoice was for work performed on that particular wall outlet. To the contrary, defendants produced proof that the invoice was for work done in an entirely different area of the building. Further, the invoice did not indicate that the wall outlet was left hanging out of the wall or was otherwise left in an unsafe condition after Lightsource finished its work.
The trial court concluded that the expert rendered a net opinion. See Buckelew v. Grossbard, 87 N.J. 512, 524 (1981). Having reviewed the record de novo, as required on an appeal from a summary judgment decision, we agree. See Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995).
On this appeal, plaintiff concedes that she needed expert testimony to prove her case. She contends that the expert's failure to examine the building's electrical system, or to examine the outlet to see if it was properly grounded, merely affected the weight of his opinion, not its admissibility. We are unpersuaded.
The net opinion rule precludes an expert from rendering an opinion based on speculation. Vuocolo v. Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co., 240 N.J. Super. 289, 300 (App. Div. 1990). An expert must do more than state a bare conclusion but instead must state a factual basis for his opinion. Buckelew, supra, 87 N.J. at 524. In this case, the expert simply assumed that something must have been wrong with the outlet plaintiff was using. However, there was no record evidence to support that conclusion because the expert never examined the outlet or any other part of the building's electrical system. Moreover, there was no evidence that Lightsource had worked on the outlet plaintiff used.
We agree with Judge Silverman Katz that the expert rendered a net opinion and, therefore, the case was properly dismissed on summary judgment. Plaintiff's reliance on Scully v. Fitzgerald, 179 N.J. 114 (2004), is misplaced. In that case, there was evidence that the landlord kept flammable material in an uncovered storage area located under a second-story balcony, that the fire originated in the storage area and that tenants were in the habit of throwing cigarette butts off their balcony into the storage area. Hence, there was legally competent evidence to support the expert's opinion as to the cause of the fire. In this case, there was no evidence that the building's electrical system was in an unsafe condition or that a defect in the electrical system caused plaintiff's injury. Plaintiff's appellate arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant further discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
1 She also alleged that the headset was defective, however, the manufacturer of the headset is not involved in this appeal.