On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County.
Approved for Publication February 18, 1997.
Before Judges Baime and P.g. Levy. The opinion of the court was delivered by Baime, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baime
The opinion of the court was delivered by
The novel question presented in this appeal is whether a motel owner is strictly liable in tort for injuries caused by a defective cooking utensil supplied to a guest. We hold that product liability principles are not applicable.
In June 1991, plaintiff and his wife were weekend guests at defendant's motel. The motel room was furnished with a kitchenette and an electric range. Defendant also supplied cooking utensils. While cooking dinner, plaintiff took a teflon frying pan from under the sink. After washing the pan, plaintiff poured cooking oil into the pan and activated one of the burners. When the oil began to boil, plaintiff noticed that the bottom of the pan had caught on fire. Plaintiff grabbed the pan, opened the front door, and dropped the utensil on the concrete stoop. While engaged in this process, some of the cooking oil splashed onto plaintiff's hand causing severe burns.
Plaintiff and his wife sued defendant, the owner of the motel, contending that defendant was strictly liable for the defective frying pan. *fn1 They also asserted that defendant was negligent in its maintenance and inspection of the cooking utensils supplied and in failing to provide a fire extinguisher for each room. At the commencement of the trial, the Law Division dismissed plaintiff's strict liability claim on the ground that defendant was neither a manufacturer nor a seller of a defective product.
The trial proceeded on plaintiff's contention that defendant was negligent. Plaintiff testified that he inspected the teflon pan prior to its use and found nothing amiss. After the accident, Mrs. Ranalli retrieved the pan and noticed a small crack in its bottom. She subsequently discarded the pan.
The owners of the motel, Edward and Judy Roth, testified that their practice is to inspect all cooking equipment when the motel is opened in the spring. They again inspect each unit, including cooking utensils, shortly after Labor Day when they close the motel. The Roths testified that they engage in "random checks" throughout the summer and replace items as needed. In addition, housekeepers employed by the motel are instructed to inspect all inventory after each "checkout" to insure that nothing is taken and that items remain in good condition. Fire extinguishers are located on each floor of the motel as required by code.
Mr. Roth testified that on the day of the incident he heard a smoke detector sound and observed plaintiff standing outside his room with a smoldering pan resting on the concrete stoop. Plaintiff allegedly told Roth that cooking oil had "splattered" when he placed a meatball in the pan.
At the close of the case, the trial court dismissed plaintiff's claim for negligent maintenance and inspection of the pan. The sole question presented to the jury was whether defendant acted unreasonably in failing to furnish each room with ...