On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Docket No. L-1034-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 3, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.
Plaintiff, who was an inmate in the Cumberland County Jail, slipped on a wet spot in the jail gymnasium while playing basketball and severely injured his knee. Plaintiff subsequently brought this action against Cumberland County under the Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 to 12-3, claiming that improper flooring material in the gymnasium and proximity of toilet facilities to the gymnasium created a "dangerous condition of public property" within the intent of N.J.S.A. 59:4-1, 2. Plaintiff named Cumberland County and the Cumberland County Jail as defendants in the action.
Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. After discovery, defendants renewed their motion for summary judgment, which the court again denied. We granted defendants' motion for leave to appeal from the order memorializing that denial and now reverse.
The evidence before the court on the motion for summary judgment consisted primarily of plaintiff's deposition testimony and the report and deposition testimony of his expert, Burroughs Perkins.
Plaintiff injured his knee while dribbling a basketball towards the basket to take a lay-up in a pick-up basketball game played on June 1, 2008 between teams of inmates. As described by plaintiff, as he approached the rim of the basket: "I felt my foot slip. And it slid a little bit. Then I just heard my leg pop. It popped while I was still standing up. Then I just fell on the floor."
According to plaintiff, while he was lying on the gymnasium floor, he noticed that it was "wet" and "slippery." This wet area "wasn't like a puddle" but instead consisted of "little sprinkles of water." Plaintiff also testified that when his foot hit the water, he did not "slide far at all," and the injury occurred when his foot "like twisted a little bit."
Plaintiff stated that there had been flat carpeting on the gymnasium floor on one of the prior occasions he was incarcerated in the Cumberland County Jail, but that the carpeting had been replaced by the current flooring material two or three years before his accident. Plaintiff testified that this flooring material had "more traction" when it was first installed than at the time of his accident.
Plaintiff did not know how the water that caused him to slip got on the gymnasium floor, but he surmised that it was probably from the hands or feet of an inmate walking onto the floor from the nearby bathroom, which did not contain towels or a drying apparatus. Plaintiff did not know how long the wet spot may have been on the floor before his accident. However, plaintiff testified that he and other inmates would often complain to the guards about the water on the gymnasium floor, but their complaints were rebuffed by the guards who told the inmates to engage in some other activity.
Plaintiff's expert, Burroughs Perkins, an architect, expressed the opinion that the seamless resilient vinyl flooring installed on the floor of the jail gymnasium was the wrong material to use in a room used for exercise that involves running and jumping. In support of this opinion, Perkins noted that one manufacturer's recommended uses for such flooring did not include gymnasiums and exercise rooms. However, Perkins acknowledged at his deposition that there were ANSI standards for measuring slip resistance and that he had not undertaken to measure the slip resistance of the gymnasium floor to determine whether it complied with those standards. In addition, Perkins testified that he was unaware of any other standard for slip resistance that the gymnasium floor failed to satisfy.
Perkins also expressed the opinion that the location of the bathroom, which lacked any towels or other drying apparatus, directly adjacent to the gymnasium magnified the danger created by the vinyl flooring because it increased the likelihood inmates would walk onto the gymnasium floor with wet hands or feet. However, Perkins did not identify any applicable standard regarding the location of a bathroom in relation to a gymnasium or other exercise area. Perkins also acknowledged that the spot of water on which ...