On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-1736-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.
This is a premises liability action involving black ice. Plaintiff, Elizabeth Krupka, a tenant at a mid-rise apartment complex owned by defendant, Cherry Hill Towers t/a Viking Associates, slipped and fell on a sidewalk abutting defendant's property. She sued defendant and following a jury verdict in her favor, the court, on defendant's motion, entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (NOV), having earlier reserved decision on defendant's motion for a directed verdict at the close of plaintiff's case. Plaintiff now appeals and we affirm.
On April 16, 2007, before leaving for work, plaintiff observed from her sixth floor apartment window a little bit of snow accumulation on the grass, cars and windshields. The sidewalks, however, appeared clear. There was a wintry mix of precipitation, the result, she assumed, of a Nor'easter she had earlier heard reported on the radio. It had not snowed or rained the day before however.
Plaintiff left her apartment complex for work at 8:00 a.m. While walking to her car, she did not see any ice on the sidewalk despite looking "very clearly - very carefully." Approximately fifteen to twenty feet down the sidewalk, plaintiff suddenly slipped and fell. As she was getting up, she felt a slippery surface that she identified as ice.
Despite sustaining knee injuries, plaintiff proceeded to work but not before approaching a maintenance man with whom she was familiar, but did not identify, to tell him someone should treat the sidewalks so that no one else gets hurt. Nevertheless, plaintiff did not report the incident to defendant until two months later when she met with defendant's property manager, Lorna Martin, and maintenance supervisor, Jerry Hummel.
Defendant admitted responsibility for maintaining the sidewalk abutting its property. A brochure issued to tenants by defendant describes twenty-four hour community attendants and emergency maintenance on the property. According to Hummel, a maintenance crew performs early morning inspections to ensure there is no ice or snow on the sidewalk or the parking lot as part of defendant's regular policy and procedure with respect to inclement weather. If ice or snow were detected, management would immediately respond. In addition, defendant contracted with an outside company, Eric's Lawncare, Inc., to plow the parking lots at the complex. According to its owner, Eric Solomon, there were no invoices for April 2007 related to snow removal, and no services were necessary for April 16, 2007 based on weather conditions.
At the close of plaintiff's case, defendant moved for a directed verdict and the court reserved decision. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge instructed the jury in pertinent part:
[F]or the defendant to be liable for the plaintiff's injuries the plaintiff must establish, one, that the property was in a defective condition. In this case she must prove to your satisfaction that, indeed and in fact, there was ice on the sidewalk.
Two, she must prove to you that the existence of the ice on the sidewalk was known to the landlord, was known to Cherry Hill Towers, or should have been known by them before the accident occurred.
And three, she must prove that Cherry Hill Towers, after knowing or should have known about the problem, failed to act reasonably under the circumstances. And four, that the slip and fall on the ice [was], in fact, the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries.
The jury then returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $55,000, following which defendant moved for judgment NOV. Acknowledging its error in allowing the case to go to the jury, ...