A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Tenant’s Personal Injury Claim against Property Manager Dismissed

By on November 3, 2017 in Court Rulings with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Diedre Bradley resided in an apartment building in East Orange that was managed by Defendant Dynamic Capital Property (“Dynamic”). On January 16, 2012, Plaintiff suffered an injury when she tripped and fell due to a crack on the marble stairs in the common area of the building. In Bradley v. Dynamic Capital Property, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2649 (App. Div. Oct. 20, 2017), Plaintiff sued Dynamic, claiming that it negligently managed the property. The issue was whether the property manager owed her a duty and, if so, if it breached such duty.

The trial court dismissed the case as to the property manager via summary judgment. The court found that the plaintiff had failed to present a prima facie case that Dynamic had breached any duty owed to plaintiff in causing her accident.

Plaintiff had argued that the Defendant manager owed her a duty pursuant to N.J.A.C. 5:10-4.1(a), which governs the maintenance of multiple dwellings, which required owners and managing agents to have the general duties set forth in the regulation for the maintenance of the premises. In this case, the Plaintiff had failed to name the owner of the property as a defendant.

Upon appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that there was no evidence to show that the defendant had breached its duty of care to plaintiff. Although the plaintiff produced photographs showing cracked stairs, which she claims caused her injury, she provided no proof explaining how long the stairs had been in that condition or showing that defendant had notice of the condition and failed to address the condition, which proximately caused her injury. Hence, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision that the plaintiff failed to present a prima facie case against the defendant and affirmed the dismissal.

The Appellate Division also upheld the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to name the owner of the property. Plaintiff claimed that the fictitious defendant rule should allow her to amend the complaint and the amended complaint should relate back to the filing date of the original complaint. Even if the plaintiff included the naming of a fictitious party as the owner of the building, she must act with diligence to amend the complaint. If not, the amendment will not be allowed and the action would be time barred if filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Here the plaintiff knew of the identity of the owner one year after she filed suit, yet she waited 2 years to file an application to amend the complaint, which was 4 years after the accident occurred. At that point, the statute of limitations had expired.

Although the court rules provide that leave of court “shall be freely given in the interests of justice” where a party seeks leave to amend a pleading, the Appellate Division found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying this motion to amend. The Court noted that “a defendant suffers some prejudice merely by the fact that it is exposed to potential liability for a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run.”  Due to the plaintiff’s lack of diligence in seeking to amend the complaint after it learned the identity of the owner, the Court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny this motion to amend to add the owner as a defendant.



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 30 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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