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Dismissal of Social Guest’s Personal Injury Action Upheld on Appeal

August 8, 2018

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In <a href="https://njcourts.gov/attorneys/assets/opinions/appellate/unpublished/a5444-16.pdf?cacheID=L2CfhDY"><em>Marroquin v. Espinoza</em></a>, plaintiff slipped and fell on black ice on her cousins' walkway.  Plaintiff and other family members had been staying at the house  to celebrate Thanksgiving.  On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it had rained and snowed, but plaintiff did not go outside.
Plaintiff went out shopping with her mother the next day.  It was not raining, but it was cold.  She had no difficulty getting to her car  in the driveway.  Upon her return, plaintiff parked her car on the street in front of the house.  She went inside for a few hours and then proceeded to pack her car with luggage.  She had no difficulty walking out of the car with her luggage.  However, when she was approaching the car to go home t, she slipped on the walkway leading to the street.  She claimed to have slipped on black ice.
The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint on summary judgment because, as a social guest, she had the burden of proving that her cousins, the defendants, knew or should have known about the black ice on the walkway.   Residential homeowners in NJ have a duty to render private walkways on the property reasonably safe, and to clear snow and ice that presents a danger to known or expected visitors.  The residential owner also has a duty to warn of any dangerous condition of which he or she has actual knowledge, and of which the social guest is unaware.
The record showed that plaintiff’s cousins were unaware of the icy condition on the front walkway.  Neither plaintiff nor defendants said that they knew of the ice prior to the fall.  The defendants testified that they cleared and salted the walkway the day before plaintiff’s fall, and one of the defendants testified that the walkway was clear the morning before plaintiff’s fall.  Finally, plaintiff proffered no evidence that defendants’ should have known that light rain would cause black ice.  This is because plaintiff had no expert to discuss the meteorological conditions or the nature of the walkway.
This case is a good illustration of how defense counsel can obtain a dismissal in the absence of an appropriate liability expert report from plaintiff.
Thanks to Michael Noblett for his contribution to this post.
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