On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Docket No. L-4729-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 14, 2013
Before Judges Parrillo, Sabatino and Fasciale.
This negligence case arises from the personal injuries that a caterer sustained when a glass vase shattered and his hands were struck and cut by the propelled fragments. The vase contained a floral arrangement, which a florist working at the same catered event had been carrying across the room. The injured caterer sued the florist and the floral company, contending that either the florist had been gripping the vase in a dangerous manner or that the vase had not been adequately inspected for cracks before it was brought to the site.
The trial court granted defendants a directed verdict at the close of the caterer's proofs before the jury, mainly because the caterer had not retained a liability expert to explain why the vase had shattered. We reverse, concluding that it was not essential for this plaintiff to have retained a liability expert in these circumstances.
We describe the facts in a light most favorable to plaintiff. See R. 4:37-2(b). On February 15, 2009, plaintiff Martin Mayer, a professional caterer, was setting up for an engagement party at a synagogue in Passaic. Defendant Samuel Grunwald, a florist employed by co-defendant, Once Upon a Rose, Inc., also was at the synagogue with his wife, getting the floral arrangements in place for that same engagement party.
Plaintiff arrived at the synagogue at approximately 3:00 p.m. With the help of his assistant, plaintiff started bringing the food inside. He also moved tables around the banquet room under the direction of the party planner.
Meanwhile, Mr. Grunwald and his wife were setting up the floral arrangements in the room. Mrs. Grunwald is the sole owner of Once Upon a Rose, Inc., and Mr. Grunwald is an employee of the company. Mr. and Mrs. Grunwald brought all the floral materials to the synagogue, and they assembled the arrangements at the event.
The floral vases were stored in individual boxes, which had then been placed in milk crates. The Grunwalds used two similar types of vases, which were both made of glass and had the same width, except some were a couple of inches taller than the others. They assembled five or six arrangements at the synagogue.
According to Mrs. Grunwald's testimony, the same glass vases had previously been used between ten and thirty times. Mrs. Grunwald stated that she had checked all the vases that day for chips and cracks and found none. She did not remove any vases while making the floral arrangements that day. However, she insisted that she would have removed any vase if it had been found chipped or cracked.
During the course of setting up for the engagement party, Mr. Grunwald began to move a floral vase from one table to another. The tables were ten to fifteen feet apart. The vase in question was a tall glass square, which was flat on all sides. It had bamboo and flowers extending a few feet over the top and was nearly filled with water.
From about ten to twelve feet away, plaintiff observed Mr. Grunwald hold the vase with outstretched arms. According to plaintiff, Mr. Grunwald appeared to be applying pressure with the palms of his hands on the ...