NEWS Notes green

Premises Liability – No Duty of Care Owed To A Social Guest For Unknown Dangerous Conditions Located On Your Property

April 26, 2017

MICHAEL J. RANKIN reports on a recent case where New Jersey’s Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision to grant Defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing a complaint brought by Defendants’ social guest who was allegedly injured at Defendants’ home during an Easter party.    

While leaving the Easter party at Defendants’ home, Plaintiff’s heel of her shoe caught on the metal weather-strip of the door threshold, and she fell into a sunken vestibule.  Plaintiff alleged that the area at the time of the incident was dark due to the overhead chandelier being turned off.   Plaintiff had visited Defendants’ home on between fifteen to twenty prior occasions. During those times, Plaintiff always entered and exited using the same door and over the same threshold, and never complained about the entranceway or its condition.

According to Plaintiff’s engineer expert, the threshold was “towering” over the floor level and approximately ten-and-a-quarter inches vertically above the entry foyer floor which created a vertical drop as one stepped over the threshold. Plaintiff’s expert noted that the threshold edge was exposed to pedestrian contact and served as a point of entrapment capable of catching a person’s foot which, when combined with the vertical drop, created a hazardous condition.  Plaintiff’s expert also noted that the lack of illumination at the time of the incident precluded Plaintiff from allegedly viewing the hazardous condition presented by the threshold. 

The trial court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment finding the complaint defied notions of reasonableness to regard Plaintiff as being unaware of the threshold given the number of times she visited Defendants’ home. Moreover, the trial court concluded that Plaintiff could have remedied any lack of illumination herself and that Plaintiff had actual knowledge of the threshold. 

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision holding, under the common law of premises liability, Plaintiff, a social guest, must be warned of a condition of the premises that Defendants know or have reason to know creates an unreasonable risk of injury.  Here, the record lacked support that the defective condition was patent to a layperson or was visible or palpable such that it created an unreasonable risk of injury to guests.  As Defendants would not have knowledge of the threshold’s alleged dangerous condition after residing in the home for thirty-seven years without similar incidents such as to impose a duty to rectify the condition or warn Plaintiff, the Appellate Division affirmed summary judgment in favor of Defendants. 

Please contact MICHAEL J. RANKIN if you have any questions or need any assistance in connection to this subject.