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District Court Dismisses Claim For Personal Injury Caused By A Trip Over Advertising Sign

By on July 31, 2020 in Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Richard Connors visited the defendant’s Sam’s Club Store on a clear, sunny and dry day.  Outside the store entrance was a metal advertisement sign, which was positioned next to a flower display and about three feet to the right of the entrance door marked “Welcome.”  In Connors v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96937 (D.N.J. June 3, 2020), the issue was whether the defendant’s store could be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries that were alleged to have occurred when he tripped over the advertisement sign’s leg.

The plaintiff had parked his car and approached the Sam’s Club Store.  After arriving at the entrance door, he paused for a second for the door to open.  When it failed to open, he realized it was closed and inoperative.  He looked towards his right, at which time he saw the exit door and the flower display.  He proceeded towards the entrance way on the right side of the building and the automatic door marked “Exit.”  As he walked past the main entrance door, he tripped and fell over the advertisement’s sign’s leg.  The advertisement sign measured about 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide with black legs at its base differing in color from the concrete floor underneath.

The facts showed that the sign did not block any portion of the entrance way.  The sign was neither broken nor damaged.  Also, the manager of the store was unaware of any other person other than the plaintiff ever falling over this sign.

Plaintiff admitted that he did not see the sign and the sign was not defective.  His complaint was over what he believed to be the sign’s misplacement.

Plaintiff admitted visiting this particular store on several prior occasions and using the same entrance he had tried to use on the date of the accident.  While he was aware that Sam’s Club uses advertisement signs like the one he tripped over, he testified that he had not looked at them. 

Under New Jersey law, a business proprietor owes a duty of reasonable care to those who enter the premises to provide a reasonably safe place to do that which is within the scope of the invitation.  The duty encompasses an obligation to maintain the businesses in a reasonably safe matter for its invitees.

However, the Court noted that this duty of reasonable care is not limitless.  Not every property condition in which persons can hurt themselves is unreasonably dangerous or hazardous.  The Court noted that “if ordinary persons who are likely to encounter a condition may be expected to take reasonable care without further warnings, and if the condition is plainly visible with no unusual features and in a place where they would naturally look for it, then the condition is not unreasonably dangerous.”

The District Court noted here that the advertisement sign that the plaintiff tripped and fell over was neither broken, defective, nor damaged.  It did not block any portions of the store entrance ways and the store manager was unaware of anyone else falling in the prior 8 years over this particular sign.  Based upon the facts, the Court determined that no reasonable jury could find that the store had actual or constructive notice of the sign as a dangerous condition.

The District Court noted that it was the store’s policy not to place signs or any other obstructions in front of the bollards which are in front of the store, to ensure a clear pedestrian pathway.  Rather, advertisement signs were placed behind the bollard in front of the middle bay door because this was not a customer entrance.  The sign at issue was not placed in front of the Welcome or Exit doors.  Instead, it was placed off of the pedestrian walkway, next to the flower display, where no ordinary pedestrian reasonably would have walked.

The Court further noted that the placement of the sign in front of the defendant’s door was part of its regular and normal business practice. The Court stated that “there is no doubt that the very purpose and function of these storefront signs, and their strategic placement, is such that they may be viewed by customers as they enter the store.”  Further, the District Court pointed out that the sign was plainly visible, similar to ones during plaintiff’s previous visits to the store and was placed in a similar location.  The Court found that the sign and its placement were conditions of the store that the plaintiff, like any other ordinary person visiting the store would be likely to encounter.  Therefore, the plaintiff should have taken reasonable care to avoid coming into direct contact with it.  

Thus, the Court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that a dangerous condition existed, or was created from the defendant’s store’s placement of its advertisement.  The District Court granted the defendant store’s motion for summary judgment, which dismissed the complaint in this matter.

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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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