On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-1649-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 25, 2007
Before Judges Skillman and Yannotti.
Plaintiffs Pearl Anthony and Robert Anthony appeal from an order entered by the Law Division on August 4, 2006, which granted summary judgment in favor of defendants County of Camden and Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders (County). For the reasons that follow, we reverse.
Plaintiffs filed a complaint in this matter on February 28, 2005, claiming that Mrs. Anthony was injured on February 28, 2003 when she slipped and fell on the steps inside City Hall, in Camden, New Jersey.*fn1 Plaintiffs alleged that defendants had a duty to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of the property; failed to make reasonable observations and discover any dangerous conditions that might develop; breached their duty of reasonable care "to fix or take necessary precautions" respecting the dangerous condition; and Mrs. Anthony's injuries were the foreseeable result of defendants' failure to properly maintain and/or repair the property. Mr. Anthony asserted a claim for the loss of his wife's services, society and companionship. Defendants filed an answer denying liability and alleging, among other things, that plaintiffs' claims were barred by the applicable provisions of the Tort Claims Act (TCA), N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 to 12-3.
The record shows that Mrs. Anthony was in her mid-70's at the time of the accident. She testified at a deposition that the accident occurred around 11:30 a.m. on the main floor of City Hall. Mrs. Anthony said that it "was a very snowy day" after a "big snow[storm]" and people were walking in and out of the building "with mud on their shoes and stuff like that." She asserted that there was snow on the streets and some snow on the sidewalks. Mrs. Anthony entered the building at the Sixth Street entrance. She observed water on the floor in the lobby and on the steps going up from the lobby to the elevators.
Mrs. Anthony was employed at the time by Tri-County as a security guard and she came to City Hall to pick up her check at Tri-County's office in the basement of the building. Mrs. Anthony walked up the steps to the elevators, took an elevator downstairs to the basement, and went to Tri-County's office. She said that the floor in front of the elevators on the first floor was wet but there were no puddles of water in that area. Mrs. Anthony picked up her check, got on the elevator and returned to the first floor. She exited the elevator and walked down the steps to the exit.
Mrs. Anthony stated that she was in the building about fifteen or twenty minutes. She exited from the same steps that she came in. Mrs. Anthony testified that the steps were wet. She said that she held onto the railing but she slipped. Mrs. Anthony asserted that all of the steps were wet and there was water and "gritty stuff" on the third step. Mrs. Anthony said that she did not know how long the steps were wet before she fell but the steps were not "as wet [when she entered] as they were when [she] came down."
Michael P. Large (Large) also was deposed. In 2003, Large was the County's maintenance superintendent for the courthouse complex. Large said that he had ultimate responsibility to see that the property was cleared of hazards due to ice, snow or weather conditions. He stated that the floor inside the vestibule area has a marble border surrounding a "walk pad" with a fabric tread. The floor surface where the metal detectors are located is marble.
Large testified that "runners" are used in the entranceways when there is snow, icy conditions, or rain. He explained that the "runners" have carpet on top and a rubber base. According to Large, the "runners" are placed by the front door entrance and at the top of the stairs. He said, "the runners absorb the water from the people coming in off their shoes." Large added if there was an excessive amount of water on the walking surface in the vestibule area, the maintenance crew would "get a mop and mop it up."
Plaintiffs supported their claims with two reports written by Julian M. Toneatto (Toneatto), a civil engineer. In a report dated February 23, 2006, Toneatto described the main lobby area of the building. He said that there are three pairs of double-glass doors at the Sixth Street entrance and an enclosed foyer area immediately inside the doors. In addition, there is a landing and a "wide flight of eight marble steps" that ascend to the main lobby area. The steps are separated into three sections and iron handrails are located on each side of the three stair sections. The steps are made of marble and, according to Toneatto, "the treads of the steps are worn by nearly a century of foot traffic."
Toneatto asserted that the steps are about a foot wide, from the kick plate to the outer edge. He pointed out that hollow areas are worn into the marble treads about 12 to 30 inches from the handrails. The hollows are as deep as one-eighth inch below the surface of the original tread and can retain between one-sixteenth and one-eighth of an inch of water.
Toneatto wrote, "While this does not seem to be a lot of water, it is more than sufficient to lubricate the surface of the ...