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Barbarisi v. Caruso

Decided: October 22, 1957.

DENNIS BARBARISI, AN INFANT BY HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, GILDA BARBARISI, AND GILDA BARBARISI AND ANTHONY BARBARISI, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MARY CARUSO, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Freund, J.A.D.

Freund

[47 NJSuper Page 127] This action was instituted on behalf of Dennis Barbarisi, an infant now 9 years of age, by his mother as guardian ad litem , and by the infant's parents per quod , to recover for personal injuries, medical expenses and loss of future earnings. The complaint is based on failure to exercise reasonable care in the assumed duty to care for and supervise the infant plaintiff. At the conclusion

of the plaintiffs' testimony, before a jury, on the question of liability, the defendant's motion for an involuntary dismissal was granted. Hence, the plaintiffs appeal.

Dennis Barbarisi, on January 17, 1956, when seven years of age, was living with his parents and a younger sister on the second floor of a two-family house. The defendant, who is his maternal grandmother, is the owner of the premises and occupies the first floor. Dennis was in the second grade at school and had come home at noon for the rest of the day. His mother had taken the two children to her mother, the defendant, who was in the basement doing her laundry. The plaintiff testified that she asked the defendant to watch the children while she went shopping for herself, and inquired if she needed anything from the store. The defendant said she would watch the children. The infant's mother testified that she and her mother each do their own laundry. At the time of the incident, defendant was engaged in doing her own laundry in an agitator type electric machine which opened at the top.

Dennis testified that his mother had taken his sister and him to the cellar where his grandmother, the defendant, was doing her laundry and hanging up some clothes she had already washed. He testified that his mother asked his grandmother if she would care for the two children while she went to the store to do some shopping. Dennis further testified that when his mother left to go to the store, she left him and his sister with the defendant in the cellar, where they remained until the defendant heard somebody at the door and she went upstairs. At this time the laundry machine was in operation, with the top open, and Dennis "heard the washing machine was making a funny sound." He testified that he went upstairs and told his grandmother that "the machine was making a funny sound" and she said that it always makes that noise, and she did not go downstairs again. Dennis returned to the cellar and knelt on a chair to watch the washing machine in operation. He testified that "when my arm was on the side, my sleeve got caught and I pulled it out and I ran

upstairs and I told my grandmother that I think my arm was broken." The police and a doctor were called and Dennis was taken to the hospital where he stayed for 10 days, and where he had X-ray pictures taken of his arm which was put in a cast. He testified that his arm was broken above the wrist and above the elbow.

In the pretrial order the defendant admitted that Dennis was left in her care and that the washing machine was in operation at the time of the accident.

At the conclusion of the plaintiffs' case, the defendant's motion for an involuntary dismissal was granted. During the colloquy the trial judge said "at best the two Barbarisi children were social guests of the grandmother, were they not? * * * The owner of the property owed them no duty, or put it this way, they took the premises as they found them." The trial judge also stated that there was no evidence of negligence by the defendant.

The appeal is based on plaintiffs' two-fold contention that defendant was guilty of negligence in having assumed the care and supervision of Dennis and having failed to exercise the care required under the circumstances, and that the evidence on the question of liability presented a question of fact for the jury to determine.

The first question to be determined is whether or not the trial court erred in determining that there was no question for the jury. It may seem a threshing out of old straw to state again that it has been the practice on a motion for a judgment of involuntary dismissal that the court shall accept as true the plaintiff's evidence and every legitimate inference of fact that can be drawn therefrom which is favorable to the plaintiff, nor can the trial court weigh the evidence. Miller v. Public Service Co-ordinated Transport. , 111 N.J.L. 339 (E. & A. 1933); Callahan v. National Lead Co. , 4 N.J. 150, 155 (1950); Melone v. Jersey Central Power & Light Co. , 18 N.J. 163, 170 (1955).

The trial court accepted the view of the defendant that there was no proof of negligence and that the infant was a social guest. The trial ...


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