Statements Against Interest by Settled Defendants: On September 11, 2019, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Rowe v. Bell & Gossett Company reinstating the judgment of the trial court and overruling the Appellate Division’s previous reversal. The last remaining defendant in Rowe successfully moved to admit certain interrogatory answers and corporate representative testimony of eight settling codefendants to prove their share of the total liability, relying on three exceptions to the rule against hearsay: N.J.R.E. 804(b)(1) (testimony in prior proceedings); N.J.R.E. 803(b)(1) (statement by a party-opponent); and N.J.R.E. 803(c)(25) (statement against interest). The jury then returned a verdict in plaintiffs’ favor but allocated only twenty percent of the fault to the remaining defendant, spreading the remainder among the eight settling defendants.
The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the disputed excerpts from the settling defendants’ interrogatory answers and corporate representative testimony were properly admitted as statements against interest under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(25) and reinstated the judgment entered by the trial court in accordance with the jury’s allocation of fault. In making its ruling, the Court reasoned that when the statements at issue were made, they were, in fact, adverse to the settling defendants’ litigation positions in the matter and/or other asbestos cases, and, therefore, satisfied the requirements of N.J.R.E. 803(c)(25). The Court’s decision solidified the right of non-settling defendants in New Jersey to freely rely on N.J.R.E. 803(c)(25), where available, to “point the finger” at settled defendants for purposes of liability apportionment at trial.