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Movie Theater Found not Liable for Fall Due to Plaintiff’s Failure to Prove it had Notice of Debris Allegedly Causing the Fall

By on September 27, 2019 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff, Willy Frankel, and his wife were at the defendant Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas, watching a movie, when he slipped and fell after getting up from his seat when the movie ended.  The issue in Frankel v. Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas, 2019 N.J. Super Unpub. LEXIS 510 (App. Div. March 7, 2019) was whether the plaintiff was able to prove that the defendant movie theater had actual or constructive notice of the alleged debris that caused his fall.

The plaintiff and his wife went to a 6:30 p.m. movie.  The theater was crowded and the plaintiff sat in the first seat in the front row, adjacent to an emergency exit door.  When the movie ended, the plaintiff got up from his seat to make his way to the lobby.

The plaintiff testified in his deposition that he saw litter on the floor when he first sat down at the theater.  He could not describe it but he believed it could have been popcorn or trays or it could have been anything.

Plaintiff alleged that this debris is what caused him to fall into the emergency exit door and the metal bar and suffer a crushed avulsion and a large laceration to his forehead.  The plaintiff’s wife did not see what caused her husband to fall.  After he fell, she ran into the lobby to get help.

The concessions manager for the defendant testified that ushers clean the auditoriums after each show.  They would clean up any spills.  On the night of the accident, the movie theater was inspected on an hourly basis between 12:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. and twice at 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., and 9:00 p.m.

Further, the concessions manager completed a report that she inspected the area where the plaintiff fell and there were no items on the floor.  She also inspected the area for snags or rips in the carpet and could not find anything that could cause a patron to lose balance.  She also recalled checking the floor for spills but did not find anything.

The Appellate Division noted that a business owner owes to invitees a duty of reasonable care to provide a safe environment.  That duty requires a business owner “to discover and eliminate dangerous conditions, to maintain the premises in safe condition, and to avoid creating conditions that would render the premises unsafe.”

However, for plaintiff to recover for injuries suffered, “a plaintiff must establish the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the accident, in addition to establishing the defendant’s duty of care.”

 The business operator will be liable if the operator “actually knew of the dangerous condition or if the condition had existed for such a length of time that [the business operator] should have known of its presence.”

In this case, the plaintiff could not identify what he slipped on with any precision.  However, the plaintiffs contended that they were entitled to an inference that the theater employees were on notice of debris on the floor, and, therefore, responsible for the plaintiff’s injury.  Further, they argued that a reasonable jury could conclude that the theater employees were aware of and had time to remedy a dangerous condition.  They argued that the defendant had constructive notice of debris on the floor and that it remained there for more than two hours. 

The trial judge had granted summary judgment, rejecting the plaintiff’s unsupported contention that the defendant had constructive notice of debris on the floor and that it remained there for more than two hours.  The Appellate Division noted that the plaintiff never established exactly what caused the plaintiff to slip and fall.              

Despite the plaintiff’s assertion that he saw debris that remained on the floor during the duration of the movie and that caused him to fall, the Appellate Division found that this assertion did not establish that the defendant was aware of the debris, either actually or constructively.  Hence, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court judge that the defendant movie theater was entitled for summary judgment and it affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

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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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