A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Retail Store Found To Be Potentially Liable For Trip And Fall Caused By Gap Between Escalator Platform And Floor

By on February 26, 2021 in Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Arcelie Williams was injured while shopping at the defendant J.C. Penney store.  While on the second level of the store, she attempted to use the escalator to go down to the first level but her foot caught on a metal platform that was immediately in front of and connected to the escalator.  She fell and tore the meniscus in her left leg.  The issue in Williams v. J.C. Penney Company, Inc., 2020 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1765 (App. Div. Sept. 23, 2020), was whether defendant J.C. Penney was on notice of the alleged dangerous condition of the gap between the escalator platform and the floor and whether it could be held responsible for the plaintiff’s fall.

According to the facts, the plaintiff had used this escalator on prior occasions without incident.  On the day of her fall, her left foot got caught on the metal platform that was in front of and connected to the escalator.  Prior to her fall, she did not look down and did not notice anything unusual with the escalator.  However, the escalator platform was raised from the ground, with a gap of about 1½ inches between the platform and the floor. 

The plaintiff sued J.C. Penney, as well as the escalator manufacturer (Schindler).  She claimed that the defendants were negligent in failing to “inspect and repair the escalator, or to warn plaintiffs of the existence of the dangerous condition.”  Both defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs had failed to show that they had actual or constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition.  Plaintiffs countered that argument by contending that the defendants had constructive notice that the platform was dangerous because the escalator was in an area of the store with significant foot traffic by both customers and employees.

The motion judge concluded that plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient evidence that defendants had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.  Thus, the judge entered an order granting summary judgment, dismissing the case in favor of both defendants. 

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the Appellate Division.  While the Appellate Division upheld the order for summary judgment in favor of the escalator manufacturer, it reversed as to J.C. Penney.  It found that the plaintiff had failed to proffer any evidence that the manufacturer had breached any duty in installing the escalator in a generally acceptable manner.  The plaintiff would have been required to introduce expert testimony to pursue that claim. Because the plaintiff failed to provide an expert opining that the installation was improper, the Appellate Division upheld the dismissal as to the defendant manufacturer Schindler.

However, it reached a different result as to J.C. Penney.  The Court found that there was a reasonable inference that J.C. Penney was on constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition due to the fact that the escalator and the raised platform were in an area that would be frequented by both customers and employees.  As the owner of the premises, J.C. Penney was in the best position to discover and fix dangerous conditions, including the raised platform.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division found that a jury could determine that J.C. Penney “should have been on notice of an elevated metal platform in front of the escalator” and the jury could determine that J.C. Penney’s “failure to take precautionary measures to cure the dangerous condition constituted negligence.”  As an example, the Appellate Division noted that the store could have erected warning signs in lieu of making repairs or placed yellow tape on the floor near the platform of the escalator. 

Therefore, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of J.C. Penney and remanded the matter for trial for the jury to determine whether the defendant store was negligent “in failing to take precautions to address the dangerous condition created by the raised metal platform.”

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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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