No Dangerous Condition + Plaintiff’s Knowledge of the Condition + No Foreseeability of Harm= No Negligence

D’Alessandro v. Hartzel, 422 N.J. Super. 575 (App. Div. 2011).  Every so often, the Appellate Division decides a case involving a “simple negligence” claim.  This opinion, by Judge Parrillo, is such a case.

Plaintiff rented defendants’ summer condominium home.  Before going to the property for her vacation, plaintiff viewed its layout on-line, where she saw pictures of the condominium unit.  When plaintiff arrived at the unit, she was pulling a suitcase with wheels.  As a result, when she went through the front door, she had to prop open the inward-swinging door with one hand while rolling her bag with the other hand.  This meant that she entered on an angle.  After crossing the threshold, plaintiff fell on a step leading from the landing into a sunken living room and sustained injuries.  Had plaintiff walked straight in, she would have seen that there was a step down almost immediately after the threshold.

Plaintiff sued, alleging a design defect in the unit and failure to warn.  The Law Division granted summary judgment.  On plaintiff’s appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed.

Judge Parrillo found that there was no dangerous condition or unreasonable risk of harm in the way that the unit was laid out.  Plaintiff offered no expert testimony, and there was no evidence that “the layout of the entranceway violated requirements or standards set forth in state statutes and regulations or in local construction codes.”

Moreover, “[e]ven assuming a potentially dangerous condition existed, liability is still precluded if plaintiff knew or had reason to know of the risk involved.”  Plaintiff had viewed photos of the unit, in which “the change in elevation from landing to living room was entirely visible and conspicuous.”  Besides, plaintiff conceded that if she had walked straight in, rather than at an angle due to the rolling bag, she would have seen the layout.  Finally, unlike in a prior case on which plaintiff relied, the area was well-lit.

Finally, Judge Parrillo observed that there was no foreseeability of harm.  There had been no prior complaints and no previous tenants or visitors had fallen there.  For all those reasons, summary judgment for defendants was affirmed.  

The entire opinion consumed less than ten pages, including the caption and appearances of counsel.  Now that’s judical efficiency!