On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Camden County.
Before Judges Pressler, Conley and Newman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Newman, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned)
The opinion of the court was delivered by
NEWMAN, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned)
Plaintiff Janice Anderson (Anderson), administratix of the estate of Steven Anderson and individually, appeals from an order granting summary judgment in favor of defendants dismissing her
complaint. Anderson brought a negligence action against defendants seeking damages arising out of the death of her two year old son Steven who fell from a third floor apartment window when the window screen gave way. The motion Judge dismissed the complaint on the authority of Egan v. Krueger, 103 N.J.L. 474, 135 A. 811 (E. & A. 1926), holding that a landlord has no duty to install or maintain in any window a screen with sufficient strength to support the weight of a child. We do not believe that Egan v. Krueger represents the current state of the law regarding a landlord's responsibility to its tenants, their families and guests. We, therefore, reverse.
We briefly recite the facts which are essentially undisputed. Janice Anderson and her son Steven were visiting Janice's sister, Elethia Anderson, at her apartment. Defendants owned, operated and managed the apartment building. Elethia Anderson was away at work. Janice Anderson left the apartment to buy soap, leaving behind her 13 year old niece and a 28 year old man, Troy Moore, who was asleep in the bedroom when the child fell out of the window. Evidently, Steven climbed up a bookstand, on to a window sill and then pushed on the window screen. The screen gave way and Steven fell three flights to the ground sustaining severe personal injuries. He died the following day.
Defendants installed the window screen when Elethia Anderson moved into her apartment, approximately eight months prior to the accident. Elethia asserted that she had informed defendants that the screen did not fit the window and was in need of repair. Having small children, Elethia was concerned for their safety and communicated her concern to the landlord. In response to her request, the screen was repaired approximately two months before the accident. However, only two metal prongs at the top and bottom secured the window screen and the screen still did not properly fit to the frame.
In granting summary judgment, the motion Judge concluded that a window screen is not a protective device. He reasoned that a window screen's intended purpose is to keep insects out and
allow air in. As a result, defendants could not be liable for Steven's death because the window screen, properly installed or not, was not intended to prevent him from falling. The motion Judge relied on the following language of Egan v. Krueger, supra, 103 N.J.L. at 476, which reads:
A screen in a window, obviously, and of common knowledge, is not placed there for the purpose of keeping persons from falling out of a window, anymore than the glass in the window itself is placed there for that purpose. Consequently, it is manifest that this accident was not the result of the failure of ...