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Summary Judgment Victory for Zarwin, Baum

January 28, 2011

Lisa Z. Slotkin, the managing shareholder of Zarwin Baum’s Jersey City office and Zarwin Shareholder, Doris M. Aragon, recently obtained summary judgment in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hudson County, in a personal injury case involving landowner liability.  Essentially, there was a domestic squabble going on between the homeowners represented by Zarwin, Baum and a co-defendant family member. The homeowners called the Plaintiff, also related to the co-defendant, over to help deal with the situation.
In the Complaint, plaintiff alleged the defendants were negligent in requesting the assistance of plaintiff, and instructing her to come over to their premises into what should have been recognized as a dangerous and hazardous situation. Plaintiff also alleged that the defendants knew or reasonably should have known that the situation at the defendants’ home presented a danger and a hazard to plaintiff.  Plaintiff traveled to defendants’ home and observed the defendants outside in front of their house. Plaintiff also observed an enraged co-defendant.  Plaintiff suggested the parties go inside of the house to deal with this domestic squabble privately, which they did. All parties are in agreement that the situation did not calm down once all involved were in the house, but rather, it heated up. Plaintiff claimed that in an effort to remove herself from the situation, she attempted to step backwards away from the enraged co-defendant, tripping and falling over a piece of furniture and sustaining serious injuries. 

After Doris Aragon handled the case through extensive discovery, and Plaintiff filed Offers of Judgment for $300,000 as against each of the two homeowners, Lisa Slotkin began preparing to take the case to trial. Ms. Slotkin determined that the case was ripe for summary judgment and filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed as a matter of law. Although there was a lot of conflicting deposition testimony that could give rise to questions of fact to defeat a motion for summary judgment, Ms. Slotkin used the approach of relying on plaintiff’s own version of the facts, so that the only way plaintiff could deny the statements made in the motion would be to contradict her own deposition testimony.

In briefing, Ms. Slotkin argued defendants cannot be held liable for negligence because they owed no duty to warn the plaintiff of harm or dangerous conditions, about which she was already aware.   The law clearly establishes that a host must warn a social guest of risks of harm or dangerous conditions of which the host has knowledge and the guest is unaware.  If a social guest is aware of a dangerous condition or by reasonable use of his or her faculties would observe it, the host is not liable.  Ms. Slotkin in the brief and Ms. Aragon at oral argument successfully argued that regardless of whether defendants had knowledge of the risk of harm, defendants did not have a duty to warn plaintiff because plaintiff was clearly aware of the alleged dangerous condition. 

After oral argument the Court ruled that upon plaintiff’s arrival to defendants’ premises she was made adequately aware of the dangerous condition, which negated defendants’ potential liability.  The Court further opined that upon plaintiff’s arrival at the premises, she observed the dangerous condition, i.e., co-defendant in a violent rage in front of defendants’ home, and accepted the attendant risks by remaining on the premises and suggesting the parties go inside to attempt to work things out.  Finally, the court determined plaintiff’s contention that defendants’ failed to inspect and maintain the premises, concerning the location of the piece of furniture plaintiff allegedly tripped over was without merit.  The Court was persuaded by the arguments of Ms. Slotkin and Ms. Aragon and dismissed all claims against the Zarwin, Baum clients with prejudice.


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