A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Homeowner Found Not Liable to Guest Injured in Trip over Threshold

By on April 13, 2017 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiffs Libia and Peter Price were guests of defendants Howard Colodne and Louise Colodne celebrating Easter. As Libia was leaving defendants’ home, the heel of her shoe caught on the metal weather-strip of the door threshold and she fell. In Price v. Colodne, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 741 (App. Div. Mar. 27, 2017), the Appellate Division was asked to rule on whether the defendants breached any duty of care owed to Libia as a social guest.

Plaintiffs had been friends with the defendants for about 8 years (which perhaps ended upon filing of this suit!) Over this time period, Libia had visited the defendants’ home between 15 – 20 times, always using the front door. The threshold was about 1 to 1 /2 inches above the floor and was about 10 ¼ inches above the entry foyer floor, which led into a sunken vestibule.

Plaintiffs’ expert noted that the threshold edge was exposed to pedestrian contact and served as a point of entrapment, which could catch someone’s foot. He opined that, when combined with the vertical drop, it created a hazardous condition.

At the time of the accident, Libia noted that the foyer area was a “bit dark.” The foyer was lit by a chandelier that was not lit as she was exiting the house. According to the plaintiff’s expert, the lack of illumination prevented Libia from viewing the hazardous condition of the threshold.

Defendants owned this home for 37 years and, during this time, the condition of the threshold remained unchanged. No one ever tripped over it while they owned the home. The defendants used the doorway more frequently than Libia and never experienced any problem.

The trial court judge found that the plaintiff was a social guest. As such, he cited the standard of care which required the homeowners to inspect their property and correct or disclose any dangerous conditions of which the homeowner was aware and whether the guest could be aware of through a reasonable use of his or her faculties.

The judge found that Libia should have been aware of the threshold due to the number of her visits to the defendants’ home. As for the lighting, he found that she could have remedied the situation of her own accord. Accordingly, he granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

On appeal, the Appellate Division initially addressed whether there was a dangerous condition of which the defendants should have known and warned Libia. The Appellate Division noted that the duty to warn does not extend to dangerous conditions of which the property owner was unaware. Here, during the defendants’ 37 years of home ownership, no one tripped in the doorway and there was no obvious dangerous condition that a layperson would recognize. Hence, the Court concluded that the defendants neither had knowledge nor should have had knowledge of the threshold’s condition so as to impose a duty to rectify the condition or warn Libia about it.

As for the dim lighting, the Appellate Division found that this condition was readily observable by Libia and could have been easily remedied, i.e., she could have turned the light on or asked the defendants to do so. Thus, the Court found that the defendants cannot be held liable due to her failure to use due care. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that based upon traditional notions of premises liability, as well as fairness considerations, both militated against imposing a duty upon the defendants.

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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.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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