Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In this case the trial court dismissed a cause of action by plaintiffs after they failed to prove the existence of a dangerous condition on public property under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.
At the summary judgment level of the trial court reviewed all of the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the plaintiff. The court kept in mind the standard of review, “that the evidence submitted by the party together with all legitimate inferences there from favoring the nonmoving party would require a submission of the issues to a trier of fact.”
In this case the plaintiff stepped on a concrete step at the township on the golf course. The only facts related to the actual step existing in the record was:
- plaintiff’s testimony that, “she felt something given away beneath her”,
- the 20 year veteran employee/groundskeeper’s testimony that he had no prior knowledge of any problem with the stairway although he did comment he believed the stairway was poorly designed and the country club staff used salt pellets instead of calcium chloride to remove snow and ice,
- he believed the caterers practice of using salt pellets was a safety hazard because this would “destroy the concrete”,
- he had warned one of the maître d’ of the club against using salt pellets including one time within a couple days of playing this fall,
- the groundskeepers supervisor testified he was not aware of any problems regarding the stairway and no member had ever reported any repairs or concerns with said stairway.
Because this is a township golf course the New Jersey Tort Claims act governs the legal analysis. There in the Act provides, “a public entity is immune from tort liability unless there is a specific statutory provision that makes answerable for negligent act or omissions.” The plaintiff must prove that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the injury, the injury was proximally caused by the dangerous condition, the dangerous condition was reasonably foreseeable to create a risk of the kind of injury which occurred, and the plaintiff must prove that the dangerous condition was caused by the negligence, omission, or wrongful act of the public employee acting within the scope of his or her employment and or the public entity had active or constructive notice of the dangerous condition for a sufficient of time prior to the injury to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition.
In other words the public entity must have had the opportunity (sufficient time) to prevent the existence of the dangerous condition and had not done so. Presence of the dangerous condition alone is not adequate to be successful.
Plaintiff argued in the appeal, based on the groundskeepers comments, that defendant was aware of “something “. The Appellate Division rejected this argument because “something” does not create proof by preponderance of evidence that that “something” was a dangerous condition.”
In other words, these plaintiffs did not prove:
- actual or constructive notice of the existence of a dangerous condition,
- for a sufficient period of time.
As a result, their claim against the township was dismissed.
Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.