Expert Needed to Explain Dangerous Mannequin Placement (NJ)
In Reiger v. Ann, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division faced the strange question as to whether expert testimony was required for plaintiff to pursue claims against a defendant store owner for its placement of a mannequin platform display near a mirror.
Plaintiff was shopping in defendant’s clothing store and tried on a scarf in the dressing area. As plaintiff was backing away from a mirror, her heel hit a mannequin platform and she tripped over the platform, causing a mannequin on the platform to fall over plaintiff, injuring her shoulder and elbow. Plaintiff testified that she did not notice the platform display when she entered the dressing area.
Defendant retained an engineering expert who opined that plaintiff’s accident was caused by her failure to maintain a proper lookout in the direction that she was moving before she fell. Defendant’s expert also found that the aisle between the mirror and the platform exceeded the applicable building codes, and that plaintiff’s accident was not caused by a defective condition. Although plaintiff retained an engineering expert who conducted a site inspection, plaintiff failed to serve an expert report during discovery.
The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the platform’s placement breached a standard of care and constituted a dangerous condition. Specifically, the trial court ruled that plaintiff required (and lacked) expert testimony to establish that there was insufficient space between the mirror and the mannequin platform.
On appeal, plaintiff argued that a liability expert was not required to help a jury decide whether defendant breached a duty of care because her injuries were a foreseeable result of defendant’s placement of the mannequin platform across from the mirror.
The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision and agreed that plaintiff needed an expert to explain how the placement of the mannequin platform constituted a dangerous condition because “the customs and standards” for retail store displays and safe clearance conditions are not part of a jury’s common knowledge. The Appellate Division further reasoned that it was undisputed that defendant did not violate any building codes, and the platform was neither camouflaged nor protruding into the access way.
Thanks to Ken Eng for his contribution to this post and please write to Mike Bono for more information.