“Young Man, There’s A Place You Can Go . . .” (But That Place Might Not Be Immune From Liability Under New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act If You Later Sue For Injuries You Suffered There)

     by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

YMCA (pd)These are not alternate lyrics to the the classic Village People song, YMCA, but they could be if the song were written by the Appellate Division panel that recently decided Lequerica v. Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges.

In Lequerica, plaintiff was injured during a group strength and conditioning class at the YMCA. At one point, the instructor had the the class run toward a wall, touch it, and then return to the wall where they started. According to the Appellate Division:

On her return, plaintiff realized she was going too fast, and when she tried to stop she fell forward and hit her head "extremely hard" on the concrete wall in front of her. While running toward the wall, plaintiff was competing with a friend to see who could reach it first. Before she fell, plaintiff put her arm out in front of her friend in an effort to beat her to the wall. Plaintiff testified she was running so fast she felt she would not be able to stop at the wall, that she "tried to stop herself," and that ultimately, she "tripped."

Plaintiff suffered "a concussion, a large scalp laceration, and a left wrist fracture." She sued the YMCA and the instructor.

Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that (1) they were immune from liability under the Charitable Immunity Act, and (2) plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of negligence. Plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that the YMCA was not covered by the Charitable Immunity Act and that summary judgment was premature because discovery was not yet complete.

Continue reading ““Young Man, There’s A Place You Can Go . . .” (But That Place Might Not Be Immune From Liability Under New Jersey’s Charitable Immunity Act If You Later Sue For Injuries You Suffered There)”

If You Cancel Your Wedding Reception Can You Get Your Money Back From The Venue? (Or, When Is A Liquidated Damage Clause Enforceable?)

                    by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Wedding reception (pd)In the past, I have written about engagements gone wrong, including a case involving a failed (alleged) engagement and the return of a (purported) engagement ring that the recipient initially claimed to have lost, but later (apparently) found, and marriages gone wrong, including a case asking whether a marriage can be annulled because of a former wife's equitable fraud, but never a marriage reception gone wrong. With the Appellate Division's recent decision in Corona v. Stryker Golf, LLC, I am finally able to fill this gap in my failed relationship scholarship. On a more routine note, Corona also provides a helpful primer on the enforceability of liquidated damages clauses in contracts.

In Corona, plaintiff entered into a contract with defendant to hold her wedding reception at defendant's catering hall. Defendant agreed to provide the venue, food, and beverages for a contract price of approximately $12,012.80. The contract required an initial, non-refundable deposit of $2,500. Plaintiff made this payment and two subsequent payments of $5,166.35 and $1,725.35, for a total of $9,391.70. The contract contained the following provision regarding cancellation:

Cancellation under any circumstances is not acceptable and, in addition to forfeiting all deposits, the Patron will remain responsible for paying the entire balance of the contract price (excluding service charge) for the Event even if the Event does not occur.

Unfortunately, six months before the reception was to be held, plaintiff notified defendant that she was cancelling the wedding. Relying on the cancellation provision in the contract, defendant refused to return any of the money Plaintiff had paid under the contract. Plaintiff sued. Both parties moved for summary judgment. After trying to settle the case, the trial court granted defendant's motion and dismissed the complaint. The trial court held that plaintiff "twice breached the contract," although the decision does not explain how. On the issue of damages, defendant argued that the liquidated damages clause was "grossly disproportionate to [any] actual damages sustained by defendant and thus unenforceable as a penalty." The trial court rejected this argument, holding that the terms of the contract were "clear and unambiguous," therefore the court was required to enforce those terms as written.

Plaintiff appealed and the  Appellate Division reversed.

Continue reading “If You Cancel Your Wedding Reception Can You Get Your Money Back From The Venue? (Or, When Is A Liquidated Damage Clause Enforceable?)”

Legal Fees Incurred Defending Against Counterclaim Recoverable Under New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

FireplacePerhaps no three letters strike fear in the heart of New Jersey defense attorneys more than C-F-A. It is the common abbreviation for the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, a consumer protection statute that, among other things, allows successful plaintiffs to recover their attorney's fees. Until recently, however, it was not clear whether the fees incurred in defense of a counterclaim raised in response to a CFA lawsuit, as opposed to fees incurred in prosecuting the affirmative CFA claim, were recoverable. In Garmeaux v. DNV Concepts, Inc., a case of first impression, the Appellate Division held that they are, provided that the counterclaim is "inextricably caught up with" the CFA claim.

Plaintiffs in Garmeaux visited a store named The Bright Acre (operated by defendant, DNV Concepts Inc t/a The Bright Acre) for the purpose of replacing their gas fireplace which had been damaged in a storm. The store manager agreed to sell them a new fireplace and help them file an insurance claim for the costs associated with the purchase and installation. During the visit, Plaintiffs met defendant, James Risa, who the manager introduced as "[plaintiffs'] installer Jim." What plaintiffs did not know at the time, however, was that Risa owned and operated an independent fireplace installation company — defendant, Professional Fireplace Services — and that Bright Acre had a practice of referring installation work to its own employees who, like Risa, owned installation service companies. In other words, Risa would be installing the fireplace in his capacity as the owner of Professional Fireplace Services, not as an employee of Bright Acre.

Shortly after their visit to the store, plaintiffs received a proposal from Risa for the installation. They accepted and made the first installment payment. Unfortunately, not long after he began the installation, plaintiffs became dissatisfied with Risa's work habits — they alleged that he "kept an unpredictable schedule" — and the quality of his workmanship. Around the same time, they also learned that he was performing the installation in his capacity as owner of Professional Fireplace Services, not Bright Acre. After several calls to Bright Acre to attempt to resolve their issues were ignored, plaintiffs sued. 

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Not So Breaking News: Residential Homeowners Still Not Liable If You Slip On Their Sidewalks

Sidewalk (pd)It seems like every week the Appellate Division issues a decision confirming, yet again, that residential property owners are not liable for slip-and-fall accidents that occur on their sidewalks. I have blogged about some of these cases here, here, here, and here. Apparently some plaintiffs have had enough, however, as the opening sentence in the Appellate Division's recent decision in Corry v. Barbieri makes clear:

In appealing the dismissal of their complaint, plaintiffs argue that "the time has come to abandon the unenlightened standard" that insulates residential landowners from liability for injuries caused by abutting sidewalks.

Unfortunately for plaintiffs in Corry, notwithstanding their pleas, the Appellate Division was not willing to change the law on residential landowner liability.

The facts in Corry were unfortunate but not uncommon. Plaintiff was walking with her family on the sidewalk in front of defendant's home when she tripped over a "raised and severely broken portion of the sidewalk." The fall caused her to suffer "a severe rotator cuff injury." She sued, defendants moved for summary judgment, the trial court granted the motion, she appealed.

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Frau Blucher a/k/a The Real Housekeepers of Germany

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

Young Frankenstein is a classic movie and one of my all time favorites. One of the running jokes in the movie involves Frau Blucher, the housekeeper at Dr. Frankenstein's castle. Every time her name is uttered, horses neigh and react violently, even when her name is uttered in part's of the castle where there are no horses around. Check out the clip below for a sample:    

 

Other than the fact that Frau Blucher is a German housekeeper, there is almost no connection to the recent Appellate Division decision in Von Wilke v. Pastorius Home Association, Inc. But I really like Young Frankenstein so I thought that was connection enough to reference it here.

 

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Just In Time For Summer, A New Decision On When You Are Required To Clear Snow From Your Property

In the recent past, I have written several posts about when property owners can be liable for accidents caused by their failure to shovel snow from the sidewalks abutting their property. The basic rules are well settled – residential property owners generally don't have a duty to shovel but commercial property owners do. Therefore, my posts focused on the more unique (and hopefully, interesting) cases. For example, one post discussed whether a property was residential or commercial, and therefore whether the property owner would be required to shovel or not, when the owner lived in one unit of the multifamily building and rented out the other units. Another post discussed whether a lender who obtained final judgment of foreclosure on a commercial property, but that had not yet taken title to the property through a sheriff's sale, was required to shovel the sidewalks around the building.

Now there is another case that is somewhat different than the traditional snowy sidewalk slip and fall. In Holmes v. INCAA-Carroll Street Houses Corp, plaintiff was a tenant in a property owned by defendants. She sued after she slipped, while on the way to her car, on "an accumulation of snow" approximately three feet from the doorway to her apartment. (The area where she fell was actually not a sidewalk, but was instead a "lawn or grassy area," but this  distinction was not relevant to the court's decision.) A snowstorm has been raging since the night before. The snow had slowed, and perhaps even stopped, by the morning of the accident, but the storm had nonetheless dropped more than 15 inches of snow on the area. The conditions in the area were so severe that, when plaintiff's son called an ambulance to take her to the hospital, the ambulance company refused because of poor road conditions. The roads were not clear until the following day, at which point plaintiff drover herself to her doctor's office to be examined.

Plaintiff alleged that defendant had a duty to clear the snow from the property. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no duty to do so in the middle of a storm. The court agreed with defendant.

 

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Res Ipsa At Red Lobster

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

Not too long ago, I posted about a lawsuit filed by a diner against Applebees. (Click here if you don't remember.) In that case, the diner was allegedly burned after he leaned over a plate of sizzling fajitas for a pre-meal prayer. He sued, alleging that the hot plate was a dangerous and hazardous condition. Applebees argued that even if this was true, the dangerous condition was open, obvious, and easily understood, therefore it could not be liable for any damages that resulted from it. The court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Applebees.

Now comes another case where a diner was injured at a casual dining restaurant. This one, Clark v. Darden Restaurants, Inc., involved Red Lobster. In Clark, plaintiff was dining with a friend at Red Lobster. He was injured when their server dropped a plate on the table, causing the plate to shatter. Shards from the shattered plate punctured plaintiff's eyes. According to the court, the "evidence against the restaurant was damning." The server admitted that the plate was "slippery" and "greasy" and that he did not handle it properly. In light of this one-sided evidence, plaintiff moved for summary judgment, "invoking the familiar tort doctrine of res ipsa loquitur." He won, and Red Lobster appealed.

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