Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nisivoccia v. Glass Gardens, Inc. case brief

Nisivoccia v. Glass Gardens, Inc. case summary
818 A.2d 314 (N.J. 2003)

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Plaintiff, a customer, filed a negligence action against defendant, a store. The trial court granted the store a directed no-cause verdict after finding that the customer had not produced any evidence of the store's actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition. The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the judgment, and the state supreme court granted certification.

FACTS:
-When approaching the checkout lanes in the store, the customer slipped and fell on loose grapes lying on the floor.
-The proofs did not show how the grapes came to be on the floor or how long they had been there.
-It was undisputed, however, that in the produce area grapes were displayed in plastic bags that permitted spillage.

ISSUE:
-The question on appeal was whether the customer was entitled to an inference of negligence because the store should have anticipated that careless handling of grapes was reasonably likely during customer checkout, creating a hazardous condition.

HOLDING:

The state supreme court held that a mode-of-operation charge was appropriate when loose items that were reasonably likely to fall to the ground during customer or employee handling would create a dangerous condition. This applied to the checkout area of a supermarket.

ANALYSIS:

-It was foreseeable that loose grapes would fall to the ground near the checkout area. The state supreme court held that the question of the adequacy of the store's efforts to exercise due care was one for the jury, and it was error for the trial court to have entered a directed verdict for the store.

RULES:
-When a substantial risk of injury is inherent in a business operator's method of doing business, the plaintiff is relieved of showing actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.
-The plaintiff is entitled to an inference of negligence, shifting the burden of production to the defendant, who may avoid liability if it shows that it did all that a reasonably prudent man would do in the light of the risk of injury the operation entailed.
-Thus, absent an explanation by defendants, a jury can find from the condition of the premises and the nature of the business that defendants did not exercise due care in operating the establishment, and that said negligent operation was the proximate cause of the injuries. The ultimate burden of persuasion remains, of course, with the plaintiff.

CONCLUSION: The judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

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