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“Fallin’ in the Rain" - Concert Venue's Wet, Grassy Slope is not a "Dangerous Condition" (NJ)

January 18, 2019

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In <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Spigai-v.-Live-Nation-Worldwide-Inc.-et-al..pdf">Spigai v. Live Nation Worldwide, Inc., et al.</a>, the plaintiff and friends attended a concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. After parking in one of the commuter lots, at the foot of a grassy hill, the plaintiff and her friends took a courtesy shuttle bus to the venue. Unfortunately for concertgoers, rain started early in the day and continued throughout the concert. After being separated, the plaintiff elected to walk with a crowd to her car rather than waiting for a shuttle. Although the commuter lot is accessible via a staircase, the plaintiff followed others down the wet, grassy slope to her vehicle. Mid-descent, she slipped and broke her leg. She subsequently filed suit against the owner and operator of the venue.

The PNC Bank Arts Center is owned by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority/Garden State Parkway (“Turnpike Authority”) and is operated by Live Nation Worldwide, Inc. (“Live Nation”). Following discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment. The Turnpike Authority argued it was immune from liability under the Tort Claims Act. Live Nation, for its part, argued it did not breach a duty of care to the plaintiff. Plaintiff, in opposition, relied on an affirmative expert report opining that defendants failed to adequately assess the risk of accidents, failed to have a surveillance plan, failed to provide physical barriers, and performed negligent crowd control. The trial court, unpersuaded by the affirmative expert, granted summary judgment to all defendants.

Plaintiff appealed, arguing the trial judge misapplied the summary judgment standard by refusing to submit the issue of liability to the jury. In upholding the trial judge’s ruling, the Appellate Division agreed that the grassy slope, even wet with rain, did not constitute a “dangerous condition.” Permitting the existence of a natural hill, on the land, made wet from the weather, was not palpably unreasonable. The Appellate Division further agreed that the obvious nature of the wet grass on the hill made it impossible for the plaintiff to recover against Live Nation, as its duty of care did not extend to warning the plaintiff that grass is slippery when wet or to take steps to prevent walking down the hill in the rain instead of using the provided staircase.

Despite plaintiff’s injury, the defendants provided adequate legal accommodations to concertgoers to account for their safety. Thus, although injuries may occur on commercial premises, it is important to conduct thorough investigations and establish a comprehensive record that accounts for any and all distractions and contributing factors. Here, by establishing that the plaintiff was on her cell phone, traversing a wet, grassy hill wearing flip-flops and carrying a chair and tarp, the facts aligned with premises liability case law to support granting summary judgment to each defendant.

Thanks to Brent Bouma for his contribution to this post. Please email <a href="mailto:vpinto@wcmlaw.com">Vito A. Pinto</a> with any questions.

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