On appeal from the Supreme Court.
For the appellant, Schroeder & Selser (John E. Selser, of counsel).
For the respondent, Chandler, Weller & Kramer (Julius E. Kramer, of counsel).
The opinion of the court was delivered by
PERSKIE, J. The question we are asked to decide on the facts of this case is whether the landowner is liable for injuries sustained by a paid hotel guest of his tenants as the result of a latent defect in the leased premises.
The facts which give rise to the stated question are free from substantial dispute.
Plaintiff is a woman 78 years of age. During the summer season of 1939, she was a paid guest at the Royal Hotel, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where she occupied a room "which was just to the right of the lobby as you go into the hotel." Because this room was "convenient" for plaintiff (she "did not have to go up and down stairs to get to it"), she reserved it for the months of July and August of 1940. Pursuant to that reservation, plaintiff, on July 1st, 1940, rented the same room, with board, at the rate of $25 a week, from Helen M. and Wilbur Wright, who operated the hotel as tenants under a lease with appellant, Lot R. Ward, Jr., substituted trustee in liquidation of the Monmouth Title and Mortgage Guaranty Company.
On August 4th, 1940, after having occupied the room for about a month, plaintiff, returning from breakfast, crossed the threshold of her room to enter it. As she did so, the floor gave way under her weight. She fell, broke her leg, and suffered other injuries. To recover damages for the injuries which she sustained, she brought suit against the two Wrights as tenants and, with leave of the Court of Chancery, against Ward, the trustee in liquidation appointed by that court, as owner and lessor.
The proofs indicate that the part of the floor which gave way was a board (tongue and groove type) about "five inches wide" and "about fifteen inches long," or "about eighteen inches long." The board was supported by a beam at one end but it did not extend to the next supporting beam. At the end nearest to the door it was "fastened with nails and the tongue and groove against the door sill." Save as indicated, there was no other support for the board. While there were no cracks in the flooring and the seams had not opened, the expert testimony is that it was the "old type flooring," and that this type of construction was not "very safe" construction, that it was "very unsafe construction."
There was further expert proof that the only positive way the defect in question could have been discovered would have been "to take up the saddle or else crawl under the building" and examine it from underneath. Although there was testimony
that this defect would manifest itself by certain "springiness" when the board was stepped on, this "springiness" depended upon other facts concerning which no testimony was offered. At all events, there is no proof that the "springiness" in the floor did in fact ...