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Summary Judgment Denied to Casino for Injury Due to Slip and Fall on Liquid on Floor Spilled Only Four Minutes Prior to Fall

By on March 24, 2016 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Charles Romeo (“Romeo”) slipped and fell at Defendant Harrah’s Atlantic City casino on March 19, 2011. Video surveillance showed that a patron spilled a liquid beverage on a common walkway at 7:03 pm. Four minutes later, the video showed Romeo slipping on the liquid and falling. In Romeo v. Harrah’s Atlantic City Propco, LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31457 (D.N.J. March 10, 2016), Romeo sued for his injuries. Harrah’s claimed that it should not be liable because it had no actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition alleged to have caused the fall.

Harrah’s has an in house cleaning service called EVS. EVS is responsible for cleaning the public areas of the casino and has employees throughout the casino. The area where plaintiff fell is inspected every 30 to 40 minutes. Given the time in between inspections by EVS and the short window of time in between the spill and Romeo’s fall, Harrah’s argued that it did not have constructive notice of the dangerous condition.

Plaintiff argued that the mode of operation doctrine should apply, relieving the plaintiff of having to prove either actual or constructive notice. Plaintiff contended that Harrah’s drink service is an integral part of its mode of operation. It has several vending machines near the common walkway and patrons are provided with free drinks and bottles of water.

Harrah’s did not dispute that it supplies beverages in self-service style to casino patrons, including bottled water. However, there was no proof in the record that the spilt liquid came from Harrah’s beverage service. The video did not establish the identity of the person who spilled the beverage and, thus, it cannot be determined whether or not he got the beverage from Harrah’s.

Applying the New Jersey Supreme Court’s case of Prioleau v. Kentucky Fried Chicken, 223 N.J. 245 (2015), the District Court found that the mode of operation doctrine did not apply. Pursuant to Prioleau, for this doctrine to apply, the plaintiff must establish a nexus between the defendant’s self-service operation and the spill. Here, the court found that the plaintiff was unable to establish such a nexus and, hence, this doctrine did not apply.

That was the good news for Harrah’s. The bad news is that the Court nevertheless found that a jury question existed as to whether Harrah’s had constructive notice of the spill. Thus, it denied summary judgment to Harrah’s.

The court stated that constructive notice exists when “a particular condition existed for such a length of time as reasonably to have resulted in knowledge of the condition, had the owner… been reasonably diligent.” An owner breaches his duty to maintain his premises in a safe condition if he has either actual notice of the condition or “if the condition existed for such a length of time that the owner should have known of the condition and fails to remediate the problem.”

The court pointed out that whether a breach occurred is generally a jury question. There was no evidence that Harrah’s had actual notice of the spill. However, here, the video showed a casino supervisor walking in the general area of the existing spill, lingering for a moment, and then leaving the area. The defendant’s corporate designee testified that every casino employee is tasked with identifying hazards. Thus, even though the spill only existed for four minutes, the court found that this situation created a jury question as to whether Harrah’s had constructive notice of the spill.

This case is somewhat distressing to defendant business owners, in that a court could find that a spill that only existed for four minutes could be sufficient to establish constructive notice, if an employee is in the area of the spill while it is on the floor. However, it demonstrates the importance for business owners to be vigilant in maintaining their premises and the need to train employees to observe and clean up promptly any spills or debris discovered in the public areas of their premises.

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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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