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Brody v. Lifson

Decided: January 31, 1955.


On appeal from Superior Court, Appellate Division.

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


This is a civil action. The complaint was grounded in the alleged actionable negligence of the defendant, Albert Lifson & Sons, Inc., a New Jersey corporation, in the construction and maintenance of an exterior floor in the defendant's retail store at 221 Broad Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey. The plaintiff, Sara Brody, recovered a judgment in the Union County Court which was affirmed by the Superior Court, Appellate Division. We allowed certification on the defendant's petition therefor. Brody v. Albert Lifson & Sons, Inc., 16 N.J. 205 (1954).

This matter may be classified as a variety of "slippery floor" case. The defendant's store at 221 Broad Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey, included an exterior vestibule. This vestibule extended about 16 feet from the sidewalk inwards to the entrance door. It was constructed in a tapering shape between show windows, being nine feet wide at the innermost point and 11 feet wide at the outermost point of the vestibule proper, a point at which it tapered widely to the street along the front of one of the show windows. It had a gradient of three-eighths of an inch to the foot, downward from the innermost point to the sidewalk. The floor of the vestibule was made of a composition termed terrazzo. This particular terrazzo was described as being composed of a mixture of Portland cement, sand, water and marble chips, laid rough and then ground down and polished to produce a smooth surface, bring out the color of the marble chips and make it ornamental.

The plaintiff produced an expert witness who had examined this particular floor. This expert testified that there were no abrasive materials in its surface. He testified it was slippery in its dry condition and if water was applied to its surface "it would become considerably slippery." He further testified that there is a standard practice, introduction of carborundum chips in the surface of the material to cut down the slipperiness of the surface, which was not applied in this particular floor. Also included in his testimony was the

assertion that there was a standard practice in wet or slippery weather "to incorporate rubber mats on the surface of the terrazzo." He testified this standard was "universally employed" and that "it is very slippery without the rubber mat."

An expert produced by the defendant testified that this particular floor conformed with the "accepted standards" and with the "building code of Elizabeth." He testified there was no standard requiring abrasives, but admitted that the composition of a terrazzo floor with abrasives as well as the composition of such a floor without abrasives was standard practice. This expert testified he was aware of no standard, as distinguished from a practice, in the engineering or construction fields, requiring the use of rubber mats on this type of terrazzo floor, but admitted he was acquainted with the use of such mats to cut down the slipperiness. The defendant's expert further testified that terrazzo "is made slipperier by water" and that if the "pitch" of the floor "were of such that would create a hill, a hazard" the use of an abrasive in the terrazzo would be required. However, he testified that "any pitch under three-quarters of an inch to the foot is considered a pitch that cannot be felt," and in his opinion a pitch of "an inch and a half, two inches" might require an abrasive.

The incident in question occurred on the evening of June 4, 1951, a warm summer night. The plaintiff testified she had been in Newark all day and was on her way home. It had been showering while she was on the bus which she used for transportation. It had stopped raining when she left the bus in Elizabeth. She crossed the street to Lifson's store. Lifson's store was closed. The windows were illuminated. The defendant admitted in the pretrial order that there was under all the circumstances an implied invitation to the public to enter the premises to view its merchandise display. The plaintiff testified she did not enter the vestibule for shelter from the rain but to view the display. She testified that as she "stepped from the sidewalk into the

foyer" she "went right down." When she slipped she went down on her right knee which as a result was "all broken up." There was considerable testimony, uncontradicted, as to the extent of the injury she thus sustained. The plaintiff testified the floor was "all wet" and aside from the water there was nothing else on the floor. She testified the floor was "like a piece of ice or glass." There had been rain before the occurrence and it rained afterwards, while she was sitting there before her removal to a hospital.

There was conflict in the testimony as to when the incident occurred and as to when the rain began. The plaintiff testified she fell about 8:00 P.M. The sky was cloudy while she was in Newark and there had been showers from 7:00 P.M. on. A meteorologist testified the rain began in Elizabeth at 8:30 P.M. But this report came from an observer of the Union County Park Commission. The chief of the Union County Park Police testified that the records of his office disclosed that the observer there observed the start of the rain at 8:10 P.M. and this would be reported to Trenton as of the half-hour, namely 8:30 P.M. An Elizabeth police officer testified without objection that a call was received from the police radio dispatcher at 8:47 P.M. reporting the plaintiff's fall.

This presents the focal evidence. After a full trial the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff. The defendant's motion for new trial was denied and judgment was entered on the verdict. As hereinbefore noted, the Superior Court, Appellate Division, affirmed the ...

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