On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County.
Bischoff, Petrella and Brody.
The plaintiffs in these consolidated appeals were tenants in an apartment complex known as Twinbridge Apartments, Penns Grove, New Jersey. On November 23, 1980, a fire occurred in one of the apartments in the building. Before the fire could be extinguished the entire structure housing 12 apartments was gutted.
Plaintiffs instituted this suit against Penns Grove Water Company and others. The water company was charged with negligence in failing to maintain and furnish an adequate water supply for fire fighting. It was alleged that this negligent failure to provide an adequate water supply caused the fire to spread and destroy plaintiff's property.
Defendant Penns Grove Water Company, at the time of the fire, was a private water company operating under a filed tariff and pursuant to the rules and regulations of the Public Utility Commission. The contract for water service at the apartment complex expressly incorporated the rules and regulations of the
Public Utility Commission. One of the rules, N.J.A.C. 14:9-2.2 provides as follows:
14:9-2.2 Pressure and volume of water service
(a) Each water utility shall supply water service at adequate pressure and volume to the curb, or the point of connection with the customer's service line.
(b) Each water utility shall maintain sufficient pressure and volume of water at all fire hydrants to assure adequate streams for the fighting of fires.
The water company's 1976 revision of its filed tariff in effect at the time of the fire provided:
The Company will use due diligence at all times to provide continuous service of the character or quality proposed to be supplied but in case the service shall be interrupted or irregular or defective or fail, the Company shall be liable and obligated only to use reasonably diligent efforts in light of the circumstances then existing to restore service or correct its characteristics.
The water company moved for summary judgment relying on Reimann v. Monmouth Consolidated Water Co., 9 N.J. 134 (1952). The court there held that a public utility has no statutory or common law duty to provide a sufficient supply of water at a sufficient ...