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Gabin v. Skyline Cabana Club

Decided: October 28, 1969.

RONALD GABIN, AN INFANT BY HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, NATHAN GABIN, ROSLYN GABIN AND NATHAN GABIN, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
SKYLINE CABANA CLUB, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Proctor, J.

Proctor

The trial court dismissed the plaintiffs' negligence action at the close of their case. The Appellate Division affirmed and we granted certification. 53 N.J. 577 (1969).

Plaintiffs' proofs showed that in the summer of 1965, Ronald Gabin, then 13 years old, was enrolled by his parents

at the defendant Skyline Cabana Club Day Camp. The camp's activities were conducted six days a week, excluding Mondays. Normally these activities were the same as those of any other day camp, but on August 15 the camp grounds were devoted to a carnival or fair, the profits of which were to be given to a charitable organization. On this day groups of campers met with their counselors to operate booths for the various games and events which had been planned. Ronald's group had constructed a booth where the customers were to drive nails into a block of wood, the object apparently being to drive a nail in with the fewest possible blows. Ronald operated the first shift at this booth which lasted about a quarter of an hour. After finishing his turn he walked around the grounds trying the other games. Eventually he arrived at a booth containing a "snow cone machine," described as an electrically powered device in which pieces of ice were reduced to small shavings by whirling blades. After being emitted from a nozzle on the machine these shavings were put in paper cups, covered with a flavored syrup and sold to customers over a counter or table. The machine was operated by Edward Resnick, a fourteen-year-old counselor at the camp.

Ronald entered the booth and began helping Resnick by handing him paper cups to be filled with the ice shavings. After about fifteen or twenty minutes, some ice became jammed in the machine causing it to stop. Resnick tried to dislodge the ice by poking a stick into the top of the machine but his efforts were unsuccessful. Ronald then sought to unjam the machine by putting his finger into the nozzle. When he did so, the ice came free, the blades began to whirl, and the tip of his finger was cut off. Ronald testified that no one had warned him to stay away from the machine.

At the trial, the plaintiffs, Ronald and his parents per quod, relied solely on defendant's alleged violation of N.J.S.A. 34:2-21.17, a section of the Child Labor Law (L. 1940, c. 153, § 17; N.J.S.A. 34:2-21.1 et seq.). The section provides

in pertinent part: "No minor under 16 years of age shall be employed, permitted or suffered to work in, about, or in connection with power-driven machinery." Plaintiffs expressly limited themselves to an action based on breach of the statute in order to preclude the defense of contributory negligence. See Volpe v. Hammersley Mfg. Co., 96 N.J.L. 489 (E. & A. 1921); Feir v. Weil and Whitehead, 92 N.J.L. 610 (E. & A. 1919); Lesko v. Liondale Bleach, Dye & Print Works, 93 N.J.L. 4 (Sup. Ct. 1919). Cf. Soronen v. Olde Milford Inn, Inc., 46 N.J. 582, 591 (1966). In dismissing plaintiffs' action the trial court held that N.J.S.A. 34:2-21.17 applied only to minors who were employed and, since it was conceded that Ronald was not defendant's employee, he was not entitled to sue under the statute. In an unreported opinion the Appellate Division affirmed, reasoning that the title and preamble of the 1940 Law, as well as the statement attached to the original bill, showed a legislative intent to limit the statute's scope to the employment of minors.

Initially, it is clear that a violation of the statutory provision here involved itself constitutes negligence and results in liability if the violation is the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. See Feir v. Weil and Whitehead, supra, at 612-13.

The statute uses the phrase "employed, permitted or suffered to work." There is nothing in the title or the preamble of the Law which indicates that the Legislature intended to restrict the broad scope of these terms. The title refers to the general subject of "child labor."*fn1 "Labor" is not a term which necessarily encompasses compensatory employment. The preamble speaks of both "employment" and [54 NJ Page 555] "work."*fn2 It is clear that "work," as used in the Law, has a broader meaning than "employment." The penal section of the Law, N.J.S.A. 34:2-21.19, encompasses both "employment" and the broader term "work"*fn3 To give full meaning to these terms, they must be given disjunctive or alternative significance. But of greater importance is the language of N.J.S.A. 32:2-21.17 itself which enjoins: "No minor under 16 years of age shall be employed, permitted or suffered to work in, about, or in connection with power-driven machinery." (emphasis added). If the Legislature intended to limit this section to cases where a minor was "employed," it would not have included the phrase "permitted or suffered to work." It is a cardinal rule of statutory construction that full effect should be given, if possible, to every word of a statute. We cannot assume that the Legislature used meaningless language. Hoffman v. Hock, 8 N.J. 397, 406-407 (1952); 2 Sutherland, Statutory Construction § 4705 (3 rd ed. 1943). In Swift v. Wimberly, 51 Tenn. App. 532, 370 S.W. 2 d 500 (1963), cert. den. (Tenn. Sup. Ct. 1963), a Tennessee court construed a statute similar to ours.*fn4 Although the infant plaintiff in that case was never employed, the defendant allowed him to work on gasoline propelled go-carts in a recreation center. In ruling that

the statute was violated, the court upheld the plaintiff's right to recover after he had injured his leg in the gears of a cart. The court emphasized that the words "permitted or suffered to work" clearly showed that the Act covered nonemployment situations even though the Act's title referred only to employment. Id. at 543-544. 370 S.W. 2 d at 505-506. And in Ludwig v. Kirby, 13 N.J. Super. 116, 122 (1951) the Appellate Division, though holding that the power driven machinery was not the proximate cause of ...


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