Everyone knew Nick Hanges as a man of integrity, so when a Bergen County judge ruled that his version of a car crash couldn’t be used after his death to support an insurance claim, his family went to a higher court — and won.
This week, a state appeals court overruled the judge, ordering that the Saddle Brook craftsman be allowed, in essence, to testify from the grave. The panel cited what may be the only law of its kind in the U.S.
Hanges, known for his dedication and skill in restoring cars, told police a “phantom” blue Corvette cut him off, sending his vehicle out of control and into an underpass.
Doctors said Hanges suffered both physical and psychological damage from the Oct. 31, 2004 crash. He committed suicide two months later.
His estate claimed coverage from Metropolitan Property & Casualty Insurance Company, saying the Corvette driver should have been treated as an uninsured motorist.
Metropolitan Property got the case dismissed, however, by claiming that the estate had no evidence supporting Hanges’ claim. Someone in those circumstances has plenty to gain by shifting the blame “to some other non-verifiable cause” when interviewed by police, the insurance company argued. Thus, a dead man’s word couldn’t be used as testimony in a civil proceeding, the insurer‘s lawyers said.
The appellate judges disagreed, declaring that statements made by a witness who dies before trial are trustworthy if they are clearly made in good faith.
Although Hanges wasn‘t under oath at the time, police who spoke to him after the crash said there was nothing to suggest he had a motive for lying.
Not only can Hanges’ family now pursue a legitimate claim: The reputation of a man of integrity remains intact.
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