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Court Determines That Property Owner Can Be Held Liable For Fall on Slippery Floor Due To Prior Notice of Condition

By on October 25, 2019 in Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Ella Jacob slipped on a hallway floor while working for her medical practice employer.  The office had been leased to her employer by the defendant Marlboro Gastroenterology, PC.  (“Marlboro”)  The issue in Jacob v. Marlboro Gastroenterology, P.C., 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2164 (App. Div. Oct. 23, 2019) was whether Marlboro could be held responsible for her fall when plaintiff was unable to prove why the floor was slippery.

On the trial court level, Marlboro moved for a summary judgment, requesting a dismissal based upon the argument that plaintiff lacked evidence proving the floor was over waxed or identifying what made the floor slippery.  Defendant also argued that plaintiff needed an expert to establish that the condition of the floor was hazardous or deviated from reasonable standards of care.

The trial court judge agreed with that argument and found that the plaintiff needed an expert to establish a breach of reasonable standards of care and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant property owner.  The plaintiff then appealed the dismissal to the Appellate Division.

Upon appeal, the Appellate Division pointed out that Marlboro was on notice that the floor was slippery.  According to the plaintiff, the hallway where she slipped and fell had been “noticeably slicker than usual for several days.”  One of the patients had complained to her that she slipped and nearly fell.  Plaintiff told the assistant to Marlboro’s office manager that the floor was dangerous and may have been over waxed.  The assistant assured plaintiff that she would inform her boss.  Further, one of the physicians also complained about the floor, prompting plaintiff to speak to the office manager herself.  The office manager promised to bring it to the cleaner’s attention.

However, the condition of the floor was unchanged when plaintiff herself slipped and struck her shoulder on a scale as she fell to the floor.  Thus, in her lawsuit, she alleged that Marlboro negligently created, allowed or maintained the dangerous condition of the floor.  In depositions, Marlboro employees testified that they recalled no complaints about the floor.  The cleaner did not keep any records of the persons assigned to clean around the time of the plaintiff’s complaints or the products that were used.

The Appellate Division reversed the trial court decision.  The plaintiff did not claim that Marlboro negligently created the slippery condition but, rather, that Marlboro negligently ignored it after the plaintiff brought it to their attention.  Plaintiff Jacob, as a business invitee, was owed a duty of care by the property owner, Marlboro.  The Court noted the well settled law that “a proprietor generally is not liable for injuries caused by defects of which he had no actual or implied knowledge or notice, and no reasonable opportunity to discover.”  However, notice may be established by prior accidents or prior complaints.

In this case, the Appellate Division found that Marlboro was on notice, before the plaintiff’s accident, that the floor was dangerous.  The plaintiff was not obligated to present any proof of the origin of the slippery condition in order to hold the property owner, Marlboro, liable.   The Appellate Division found that “it was enough that Marlboro was on notice of the dangerous condition, however caused, because Marlboro, as the premises owner, was obliged to remediate it.”

The Appellate Division found that once notified, Marlboro did nothing (or at least that was the plaintiff’s version of the facts).  Hence, the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that the floor was dangerous based upon the prior complaints of other individuals.

Further, the Appellate Division found that the plaintiff was not required to present expert testimony as to the coefficient of friction of the floor or establish that the floor did not satisfy some prevailing technical standard.  The Court pointed out that it was enough, under New Jersey case law, for a plaintiff to establish that a floor was unusually slippery and, “that the premises owner was placed on notice of that through the complaints or prior mishaps of others.”             

Hence, the Appellate Division concluded that Marlboro was not entitled to a summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint.  Thus, the order dismissing the case as to Marlboro was reversed and the case remanded back to the trial court level to continue to trial against Marlboro.

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Betsy G. Ramos

About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

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