Christine Spellman v. Theresa Kosenski and Plymouth Rock Assurance
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
On June 10, 2013, Spellman (plaintiff) fell down a set of stairs at her mother’s (defendant) home. Spellman went to her mother’s house for lunch and recalled leaving by the kitchen door to return to work. Plaintiff does not remember anything after walking out the door until waking up on the pavement. Plaintiff ended up with an ankle fracture that required surgery. She ended up filing suit against defendant and defendant’s insurer. A negligence complaint was filed against defendant and bad faith against Plymouth for refusing to asses plaintiff’s claim. Spellman testified that the top step was “a little higher than the other steps,” however, Spellman knew the top step was higher because she has walked down the steps many times prior. The defendant moved for summary judgment after the completion of discovery. She argued that the plaintiff failed to prove she was negligent or that she knew, or should have known, that the top step presented a dangerous condition. Defendant also stated that there was no expert report identifying the step as a dangerous condition. Plaintiff countered with an affidavit that happened to be submitted after her deposition but she explained why she fell. She believed to fall because of the height difference of the top step and since she was wearing new sneakers. The insurance company argued the plaintiff’s recollection about wearing new shoes since the event was three years prior. The motion judge came to the conclusion that the plaintiff was a social guest, not a business invitee. The judge also states that plaintiff knew the step was higher and she could not determine why she fell, therefore, the plaintiff failed to prove the defendant was negligent.
Plaintiff appealed the judge’s decision and argues that the judge erred in granting summary judgment in favor for defendant. The plaintiff specifically claims that the judge wrongfully concluded plaintiff was a social guest instead of an invitee. “Only to the invitee . . . does a landowner owe a duty of reasonable care to guard against any dangerous conditions on [the] property that the owner either knows about or should have discovered.” Id. at 434. Since the plaintiff was the daughter of the defendant and visited the house often the plaintiff cannot be described as an invitee. Plaintiff also did not perform any commercial or business activities while at her mother’s house. However, the Appellate Court argues that it does not matter if plaintiff was a social guest or not since plaintiff was unable to meet her burden for proving defendant was negligent. Plaintiff also never provided expert testimony about the “dangerous condition” of the top stair. Since Plaintiff does not claim to recollect how the incident occurred the court found the speculative assertions in her affidavit failed to create a question of material fact. The Appellate Court affirmed the motion for summary judgment.
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