Archacavage v. Northern Burlington County Regional School District, Board Of Education,
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
Joan Archacavage (plaintiff) was attending her grandchild’s play on December 6, 2013, at Northern Burlington County Regional School District. After the play was finished plaintiff and plaintiff’s daughter (Andrea Tilton) went to get the grandchild, who happened to be wheel chair bound. On their way to assist the student back home, there was a coat rack in the middle of the hallway. The coat rack was covered by sheets so no part of the actually rack was visible. However, the rack did not cover the whole width of the hallway. There were no signs anywhere saying you could not get by the rack or its purpose for it being there. The rack was put there to not allow parents back to where the students were during the play. People were known for going back into this restricted area and nothing was seriously done about it. When the plaintiff approached the rack, she tried to step over the hidden wheel that was covered by the sheet. During the step up, plaintiff’s toe got caught in the wheel and she then proceeded to fall. Plaintiff suffered fractures to her patella and humorous.
Plaintiff’s expert stated, “the coat rack, as located, presented a hazardous condition because of the presence of a low rise trip hazard by the configuration of the base to the coat rack in the foreseeable pedestrian path in a means of egress.” The school as well did not comply with the BOCA Code, the Uniform Construction, and the 2006 International Fire Code. The defendant expert countered the argument. He mentioned that the rack was painted orange at the bottom and the gap was only 18 inches per side which made it visually obvious that no one should pass it. There were also exit doors to allow entry to back stage without going around the rack.
The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff failed to show the dangerous condition of the coat rack as per the New Jersey Tort Claims Act located N.J.S.A. 59:4-2. The defendant also argued that shrouded rack to partially block the hall way was palpably unreasonable. The judge granted the summary judgments since there was no genuine issue as to any material fact challenged.
The plaintiff appealed and the appellate court ruled the trial judge abused its discretion given the above recitation of facts which reveal a material disputed questions of fact for a jury, and not the judge! This trial judge overstepped his authority and should have denied the motion for Summary Judgment.