On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Morris County.
Before Judges Skillman, Kestin, and Wefing.
The opinion of the court was delivered by WEFING, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned).
Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit to recover damages for injuries she allegedly received following an incident that occurred while she was a guest at a Club Med facility. The case was partially tried but, for reasons which are immaterial to this appeal, a mistrial was declared. Following that mistrial, the defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion and plaintiff has appealed to this court. We have concluded that the trial court erred in part and that the matter must, in consequence, be remanded for trial.
In April of 1986, plaintiff Fran Grossman booked a week's vacation at a facility known as Club Med Turkoise ("Club") which is located on the Turks and Caicos Islands, within the British West Indies. Club Med Turkoise sits on more than forty acres of land fronting on a beach; it has 298 guest rooms together with various recreational and support facilities.
Ms. Grossman had never taken a Club Med vacation before. On the flight down, Ms. Grossman met Cynthia Weinstein who had stayed at other Club Med facilities in the past. The two women agreed to be roommates during their stay at the Club. When they arrived, they were assigned to Room 68 Florina and they made an agreement between themselves that the last woman to enter the room at night would lock the door from the inside.*fn1
Plaintiff's second full day at the hotel was Sunday, April 13. After the day's activities, plaintiff had dinner and then went to the Club's disco lounge. She stayed there until approximately 2:30 a.m. When she returned to her room, her roommate was not there; plaintiff, however, retired. Her roommate arrived approximately a half-hour later; the two women talked briefly and then both went to sleep. Plaintiff later awoke to find a large black man, who had removed her sheet, standing next to her bed. His hands were on her body. He remained a period of time and then left the room. Plaintiff roused her roommate to tell her of the incident but was interrupted by the reappearance of the man. He identified himself as from security and said that he was just checking. Plaintiff told him to go away and he left. Plaintiff placed the time at which she awoke at 5:30 a.m. Her roommate insisted that they had to report the incident. According to plaintiff, by the time the two women composed their nerves and got dressed, it was not until 6:15 a.m. that they left the room.
A former employee of the Club, Hymenaus Missick, was on the premises that evening.*fn2 He had worked as a security guard for approximately two months in 1985. His personnel file indicated that he had a "bad spirit" and that he was not to be re-hired.
Security guards were on duty at the time of the incident. They were aware that Hymenaus Missick had been at the disco but had not left through the Club's front gate after the disco closed. The guards looked for him but they did not locate him prior to this assault taking place. Missick was subsequently apprehended and admitted his involvement in the incident, together with his earlier entry into the room of another female guest, Sylvie Castonguay, at approximately 4:30 a.m. that same morning.
As noted at the outset, the original trial of this matter was not concluded and, following declaration of a mistrial, defendants moved for summary judgment. After hearing argument, the trial court concluded that the law of the Turks and Caicos Islands applied "to all substantive issues in this matter," and that, under that law, an innkeeper is not liable for an attack upon a guest in his inn. In the statement of reasons which the trial court appended to its order of July 2, 1992, the trial court relied upon 24 Halsbury's Laws of England § 1224 (4th ed. 1979), in support of the foregoing proposition. The trial court further concluded that under the law of the Turks and Caicos Islands, plaintiff would not be entitled to punitive damages.
The trial court was aware that plaintiff contemplated an appeal of its rulings and thus, in order to make a complete record, dealt with the issue of whether defendants would be entitled to summary judgment under New Jersey law, if it were determined that New Jersey law governed the proceedings. The trial court concluded that defendants would be so entitled; it was of the view that plaintiff had not produced sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that defendants knew or ought to have known of an unusual danger to the plaintiff and failed to take reasonable action to prevent her harm.*fn3 The trial court also concluded that the plaintiff had failed to establish evidence of proximate cause. We are satisfied that the trial court erred in these determinations and we thus reverse.
The threshold issue is, of course, which law should be applied to adjudicate the plaintiff's claims against defendants - the law of New Jersey or the law of the Turks and Caicos. Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in two respects: first, in concluding that the law of the Turks and Caicos applied to this matter, and second, in its interpretation of that law. We find it unnecessary to address the issue of whether the trial court was guided by a correct articulation of the law of the Turks and Caicos for we are of the view that, in the ...