New Jersey Again Follows California Tort Decisions

Dean v. Barrett Homes, Inc., 204 N.J. 286 (2010).  In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court concluded that an exterior finish on a home was not integrated into the home so as to bar all tort claims under the Product Liability Act.  Only claims that the exterior finish damaged the home (as opposed to damage caused to the finish itself) could be maintained.  As a result, the Court did not decide whether the integrated product rule, which bars tort claims for harm to Product A allegedly caused by a defective Product B that is incorporated into Product A, applies in New Jersey.

Writing for the Court, Justice Hoens relied on state and federal cases refusing to bar claims that asbestos damaged a structure of which it was a part, as well as on two California cases (one from that State’s Supreme Court) that held that windows and a foundation did not bar suits for damage to the home under the integrated product rule.  Justice Rivera-Soto, concurring in part and dissenting in part, found that the idea that the exterior finish was not incorporated into the home “defies basic common sense,” id. at 3, and cited dozens of state and federal cases that he said expressly or impliedly supported the idea that the exterior finish is integrated into the home, id. at 8 n.2.  The majority’s reliance on California authorities, even if those authorities are a minority as Justice Rivera-Soto asserts, harks back to prior well-known Supreme Court of New Jersey decisions in the consumer area that took their cue from “forward looking” California cases, such as Kugler v. Romain, 58 N.J. 522, 539  (1971).

Justice Rivera-Soto raised another point of interest to appellate practitioners.  He questioned the decisions below, which consisted of a majority opinion by Judge Carchman and a concurring opinion by Judge Sabatino in which Judge Simonelli joined.  Justice Rivera-Soto asked how the “majority” opinion could be so designated when the concurrence had two votes.