Submitted by New Jersey Slip and Fall Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
Appellate review of a ruling on a motion for summary judgment is de novo, applying the same standard governing the trial court. Davis v. Brickman Landscaping, Ltd., 219 N.J. 395, 405 (2014). Thus, we consider, as the motion judge did, “whether the competent evidential materials presented, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, are sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the alleged disputed issue in favor of the non-moving party.” Id. at 406 (quoting Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995)). “If there is no genuine issue of material fact,” an appellate court must then “decide whether the trial court correctly interpreted the law.” DepoLink Court Reporting & Litig. Support Servs. v. Rochman, 430 N.J. Super. 325, 333 (App. Div. 2013) (citation omitted). We accord no deference to the trial judge’s legal conclusions. Nicholas v. Mynster, 213 N.J. 463, 478 (2013) (citing Zabilowicz v. Kelsey, 200 N.J. 507, 512-13 (2009)).
In a negligence action, a plaintiff bears the burden of proving four elements:
(1) a duty of care,
(2) a breach of that duty,
(3) proximate cause, and
(4) actual damages.
D’Alessandro v. Hartzel, 422 N.J. Super. 575, 579 (App. Div. 2011) (citation omitted). “The duty owed to a plaintiff is determined by the circumstances that brought [her] to the property.” Ibid. (citation omitted). The mere occurrence of an incident causing an injury is not alone sufficient to impose liability. Long v. Landy, 35 N.J. 44, 54 (1961). The plaintiff must establish facts proving negligence, not inferences “based upon a foundation of pure conjecture, speculation, surmise or guess.” Ibid. In the context of a business establishment, the owner “owe[s] to invitees a duty of reasonable or due care to provide a safe environment for doing that which is within the scope of the invitation.” Nisivoccia v. Glass Gardens, Inc., 175 N.J. 559, 563 (2003). This duty of care “requires a business owner to discover and eliminate dangerous conditions, to maintain the premises in safe condition, and to avoid creating conditions that would render the premises unsafe.” Ibid.