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Bohn v. Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Co.

Decided: September 27, 1954.

FLORENCE A. BOHN AND EDWARD A. BOHN, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
HUDSON & MANHATTAN RAILROAD COMPANY, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported in 30 N.J. Super. 89.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling and Jacobs. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.

Burling

[16 NJ Page 183] This is a civil action sounding in tort, grounded in the alleged actionable negligence of the defendant, Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Company, a corporation of the State of New Jersey, in connection with the maintenance of stairs in the railroad station of the defendant at Journal Square in the city of Jersey City, New Jersey. The action was commenced by the plaintiffs, Florence A. Bohn, and her husband, Edward Bohn, per quod, against the defendant in the Hudson County Court and, after the trial by court and jury, terminated in a verdict for the plaintiffs in the sum of $6,500 in favor of Florence A. Bohn and $1,500 in favor of Edward Bohn. The trial court. on motion for new trial, refused to disturb the verdict and judgments

entered thereon. Upon the defendant's subsequent appeal to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, the judgments were affirmed. 30 N.J. Super. 89 (1954). Thereupon the defendant addressed a petition for certification to this court, upon which certification was allowed. 15 N.J. 496 (1954).

This appeal is addressed to this court on the premise that the Appellate Division of the Superior Court has so far sanctioned a departure by the trial court from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings as to call for an exercise of this court's supervision. See R.R. 1:10-2(d). The questions involved attack the sufficiency of the evidence, with respect to first the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for judgment of dismissal at the close of the introduction of evidence by the plaintiffs, and, second, the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion for judgment made at the termination of the reception of all the evidence. The appeal does not bring before us the weight of the evidence upon which the jury verdict was rendered.

The basic philosophy of negligence, breach of duty, is expressed in Mazzilli v. Selger, 13 N.J. 296, 301 (1953) as follows:

"The basic philosophy applicable to an action of this category is that to render a person liable on the theory of negligence there must be some breach of duty on his part to the individual complaining, the observance of which would have averted or avoided the injury. 1 Shearman and Redfield on Negligence (Rev. Ed. 1941), secs. 4, 5, pp. 10-12; Prosser on Torts (1941), sec. 30, p. 177, and sec. 31, pp. 178, et seq.; Harper on Torts (1933), sec. 68, pp. 157-158."

The measure for application to the tests of duty and breach of duty in negligence cases is to be found in the selection of the pertinent and settled substantive legal principles implemented with appropriate comparison of similar factual cases upon which courts have already pronounced judgment.

The appeal addressed to us in the present case broaches no question upon the existence, nature or extent of the injuries sustained by the female plaintiff, nor the derivative damage or injury sustained by her husband. Nor is there

any assertion that the immediate cause thereof was not the female plaintiff's loss of footing, as alleged by her, on a step on the premises of the defendant and under its exclusive control. The facts surrounding the fall were clearly illuminated by the evidence introduced and were not controverted except as to the condition of the step.

The basic duty in a case of this category is that the proprietor of premises, to which the public is invited for consummation of business with the proprietor, owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to see that one who enters his premises upon that invitation has a reasonably safe place to do that which is within the scope of the invitation. The duty of the proprietor is satisfied when he has used reasonable care to maintain the premises in question in a condition reasonably safe for the business invitee's proper use.

In New Jersey, Phillips v. Library Co., 55 N.J.L. 307, 310 et seq. (E. & A. 1893) is the keystone decision on fundamental duty as to an invitee. In the present type of access case the duty is set forth in Delaware, L. & W.R.R. Co. ...


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