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Speziale v. Newark Housing Authority

Decided: March 22, 1984.

ANN SPEZIALE AND JOHN SPEZIALE, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
NEWARK HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Essex County.

Antell and Joelson. The opinion of the court was delivered by Joelson, J.A.D.

Joelson

[193 NJSuper Page 414] Defendant appeals from a judgment in favor of plaintiff Ann Speziale for damages sustained by reason of a fall while she was attempting to enter a laundry room on defendant's premises.*fn1

According to plaintiff's testimony at trial, plaintiff, who was a resident of a housing project owned and operated by defendant, went at approximately 10:15 a.m. on June 4, 1979 to the laundry room which was maintained for the use of the residents of the project. She was 62 years of age at the time. She entered the laundry room by descending concrete steps to a "pit" and then ascending one step into the laundry room itself. She placed a few articles of clothing into a dryer and returned to her apartment.

About three-quarters of an hour later, she went back through the rain to retrieve her clothing. As she descended the steps, she noticed that there were approximately two or three inches of water in the pit and that a drain in the floor was "bubbling." She testified that this condition had not existed earlier when she went to place her clothing in the dryer. In attempting to avoid stepping into the water, plaintiff placed her right foot on the last step of the concrete staircase and her left foot on the single step leading to the laundry room. That step contained a metal plate. Her left foot slipped on the metal plate, causing her to fall. She stated that both the metal plate and her shoes were wet. She was unable to state the distance between the two steps, but her testimony makes it clear that she did not have to jump or leap to negotiate the distance.

In the brief submitted on its behalf, defendant alleges that the trial court erred in not granting defendant's motion for involuntary dismissal at the end of plaintiff's case. We agree and, therefore, reverse.

It is undisputed that since defendant is a public entity, the provisions of the Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq., apply. As provided by N.J.S.A. 59:4-2:

A public entity is liable for injury caused by a condition of its property if the plaintiff establishes that the property was in dangerous condition at the time of

the injury, that the injury was proximately caused by the dangerous condition, that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred. . . .

The term "dangerous condition" as used in N.J.S.A. 59:4-2 is defined in N.J.S.A. 59:4-1 a as:

a condition of property that creates a substantial risk of injury when such property is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used.

In denying defendant's motion for an involuntary dismissal at the close of plaintiff's case, the trial judge said that he would charge the jury that in order to find liability the jurors "have to find there was a dangerous condition, and the definition of that doesn't help the plaintiff because it's a dangerous condition only if there is . . . a substantial risk of injury when such property is used with due care in the manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable it will be used." As promised, when he delivered his charge to the jury the judge quoted the statutory definition of "dangerous condition" as it appears in N.J.S.A. 59:4-1 a. The first special interrogatory which the ...


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