On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-1823-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Rodríguez and LeWinn.
Plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on a wet bathroom floor while she and her husband were staying at defendant motel. Plaintiff sued the motel and its owners, claiming negligence and seeking compensatory damages. She now appeals from the November 20, 2009 order of the trial court granting summary judgment to defendants dismissing her complaint. The sole issue presented is whether plaintiff's expert report was sufficient to create a material factual dispute to defeat summary judgment. We affirm.
The pertinent factual background is summarized from the deposition excerpts and other exhibits appended to the motion papers. Plaintiff and her husband arrived at the Parsippany Inn on July 16, 2007, and stayed there through the date of plaintiff's accident on July 22, 2007. On the morning of July 22, plaintiff was in the bedroom "eating something" and she "went to wash [her] hands" in the bathroom; she was barefoot. As she headed towards the sink, she "just took a couple of steps and fell on something that felt like ice." She did not observe any water on the floor. Plaintiff stated that the last time she and her husband took a shower in that bathroom had been the previous morning.
Plaintiff's husband testified that he found his wife "[l]aying back flat on the floor." He observed water on the floor and indicated its location on a photograph of the bathroom; however, the record does not reflect the precise description of the location he so identified. He estimated that the amount of the water was "more than a cup, but [he did not] know. [He could not] measure the water"; nor did he know how the water got there. He concluded that the water was the cause of his wife's fall because "she had slipped down so that's the only thing [he] could see that could have made her f[a]ll."
Plaintiff's husband helped her to get onto the bed. She complained that her ankle and foot were hurting. Plaintiff "sat on the bed for a while" and then apparently "went... back to sleep." When plaintiff awoke she complained that "her leg was hurting so bad, she called the [m]otel... manager." Someone from the motel staff arrived and, upon observing plaintiff, "they called 911." An officer from the Parsipanny-Troy Hills Police Department arrived at the motel room at approximately 9:00 a.m. and transported plaintiff to St. Clare's Hospital "for further medical evaluation."
Bansi Papaiya, the manager and one of the owners of the motel, testified in deposition that he arrived on the premises at approximately 9:00 a.m. on the morning of plaintiff's accident and saw an ambulance. He was informed that a guest in room 107 was being taken to the hospital; however, he did not go to the room at that time. He stated that the only staff who would have entered plaintiff's room were "[m]aids who cleaned the room."
Papaiya described the bathroom in room 107 as having a ceramic tile floor; he stated that the bathroom floor should not "get wet" because the shower has a sliding door, adding that "[i]f the door is open, obviously [a] little bit [of] water come[s] outside." He added that every room has a "[t]owel bath mat" to "protect the shower" and that "generally [when] people take [a] shower, the water doesn't come out."
Plaintiff proffered an expert report by Ronald L. Saxon, a licensed engineer. Saxon conducted his inspection of the accident scene on October 1, 2007. He performed "[s]lip resistance measurements" on the bathroom tile, once while the tile was dry, "and again with the tile wet with distilled water." He measured the "dry slip resistance" at "0.74" and the "wet slip resistance" at "0.24." Saxon opined:
Maintaining premises safe for the known and foreseeable uses, in particular maintaining floors free of hazards, involves anticipating hazards that will develop under some conditions of use. Water is a foreseeable floor contaminant in a bathroom, and a bathroom floor should be a surface which remains reasonably slip resistant regardless of the presence of water. In this context, reasonably slip resistant refers not so much as to the absolute value of slip resistance, but to uniformity of the slip resistance, i.e.[,] similarity of the dry and wet slip resistances.
Unperceived areas of lower slip resistance, on an otherwise apparently safe walking surface, is [sic] a discrepancy between expectation and reality, and thus a cause of a fall. It is recognized that unperceived conditions which result in a change in the ...