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Spincola v. City of Union City

April 17, 2009

CARL SPINCOLA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF UNION CITY AND/OR UNION CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-0329-06.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued December 2, 2008

Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Chambers.

Plaintiff Carl Spincola appeals from the order of the Law Division granting defendant the Union City Housing Authority's (Housing Authority) motion for summary judgment. This is a slip and fall case in which plaintiff alleges that he was seriously injured as a result of the deteriorated conditions of the internal stairs in a residential property managed by defendant.

In ruling in defendant's favor, the motion judge concluded that the Housing Authority was entitled to the immunity provided by the Tort Claims Act (TCA) under the allocation of resources defense, N.J.S.A. 59:2-3d. The court further found that plaintiff failed to prove that defendant acted palpably unreasonably in failing to repair the stairs. N.J.S.A. 59:4-2b.

After reviewing the record and considering prevailing legal standards, we reverse. These are the relevant facts.

I.

On March 14th, 2005, plaintiff went to visit his cousin who lived in a public housing building located at 307 Bergenline Avenue, in Union City. Plaintiff was accompanied by his mother. According to plaintiff, as he walked down the lower interior stairway ahead of his mother, the heel of his shoe caught the third or fourth step. This caused him to fall head-first down the remaining steps.

Union City Police Officer A. Vega responded to the 911 call reporting the accident. In his report, Officer Vega noted "the stairs to be in poor condition and in need of repair." Emergent medical personnel transported plaintiff to St. Mary's Hospital in Hoboken. Plaintiff was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital on an overnight basis; he was treated for head contusions and diagnosed with a fracture of his right wrist. He underwent surgery of the wrist on March 22, 2005. His recovery included out-patient physical therapy.

According to plaintiff, his injuries prevented him from returning to work as a security guard for approximately thirty-one weeks, causing a loss of income of $12,400. He further claims that his injuries will limit his future ability to secure and maintain employment. Documentation provided in discovery shows that his medical treatment cost approximately $53,000.

Plaintiff retained Wayne Nolte, Ph.D., P.E., as his expert on liability. In a report dated July 12, 2005, Nolte describes the stairs as follows:

The interior stairway at 307 Bergenline Avenue extends from the ground floor entrance to the first floor level. This stairway contains six (6) tread surfaces and seven (7) risers.

The entranceway contains a small vestibule that is eighty-one inches (81") wide and forty-one inches (41") deep. This vestibule leads to the set of steps extending up to the first floor. This stairway is forty-one inches (41") wide. The risers on this stairway vary from seven inches (7") to seven and one-half inches (7-1/2") high, the lower step being the smallest. The others are seven and three-eights inches (7-3/8") to seven and one-half inches (7-1/2").

The tread surfaces on this stairway are approximately eleven inches (11") deep. Each tread surface is fronted by a metal edge guard that is three inches (3") wide. The metal edge ...


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