In a five-day jury trial in July 2019, in Middlesex County Superior Court, trial attorney Joseph M. Marabondo obtained a verdict in favor of his client, the Defendant, who was the landlord of a rental property.

Plaintiff was at the Defendant’s rental property in the course of her employment to assist a tenant of the premise.  The tenant that Plaintiff was assisting lived on the second floor.  As Plaintiff was descending the stairwell, she tripped and fell when opening a closed door located in the middle of the second step on the stairwell.  Plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit alleging that she sustained a severe fracture resulting from the trip and fall.

During trial, Plaintiff alleged that the dangerous conditions that caused her to fall were the door’s location in the middle of a step as opposed to on a flat landing, inadequate lighting in the stairwell and vestibule, no handrail, insufficient color on the treads of the steps, and a failure to warn of these dangerous conditions.  It was undisputed that the Defendant had the door installed in the middle of the second step.

Since Plaintiff was at the premise in the course of her employment, she was considered an invitee, meaning she was on the property for a purpose of the property’s occupier.  Therefore, Defendant was under a duty to exercise ordinary care to render the premises in a reasonably safe condition.  Under these circumstances, the law requires the Defendant to take steps that are reasonable and prudent to correct or give warning of the hazardous conditions or defects known to her, and also correct or warn of hazardous conditions or defects that she could discover by the exercise of reasonable care.  Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426 (1993).

At trial, Joe successfully argued that his client had no reason to expect the location of the door was dangerous given how long ago the door was installed, the lack of prior incidents, and that Township inspectors never cited his client for the door’s location.

After the Judge charged the jury to decide both liability and damages, the jury agreed that Plaintiff did not prove the Defendant failed to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition and returned a verdict in favor of the Defendant.  Thus, the jury did not consider Plaintiff’s comparative fault or any degree of Plaintiff’s damages, inclusive of the severity of the injury and future medical expenses.

If you have any questions or concerns about any premise liability-related issues, contact Joseph M. Marabondo at jmarabondo@hoaglandlongo.com or call 732-545-4717 ext. 2150.