DEBORAH WHITE v. PARK STREET CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION & PREFERRED MANAGEMENT, INC., et al.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-2292-05T22292-05T2
PARK STREET CONDOMINIUM
ASSOCIATION & PREFERRED MANAGEMENT,
INC., and FLORIO LANDSCAPING
Argued November 14, 2006 - Decided December 4, 2006
Before Judges Kestin and Graves.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey,
Law Division, Civil Part, Bergen County,
Docket No. L-696-04.
Deborah White, appellant, argued the cause pro se.
Michelle Wall argued the cause for respondents
Park Street Condominium Assoc. & Preferred
Management, Inc. (Melli, Guerin & Wall, attorneys;
Ms. Wall, of counsel; Jennifer L. Sanyshyn, on
Michael L. Stonberg argued the cause for respondent
Florio Landscaping Contractors (Lustig & Brown,
attorneys; Gregory B. Gilmore, on the brief).
Plaintiff Deborah White appeals from a jury verdict in favor of defendants on her personal injury complaint. Plaintiff sustained a broken leg on January 15, 2005, when she slipped and fell on snow and ice in the parking lot of her condominium complex. Following a two-day trial, the jury determined that defendants were not negligent.
On appeal, plaintiff presents the following argument for our consideration:
CLAIMANT BELIEVES THAT TRIAL COURT JUDGE, ROBERT WILSON, ERRED, BY RULING EVIDENCE, INADMISSIBLE, THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ADMITTED, INTO EVIDENCE. THE JURY HAD THE RIGHT TO HEAR ALL OF THE EVIDENCE IN THIS CASE, AND CLAIMANT BELIEVES THE JURY'S VERDICT, WOULD HAVE BEEN IN HER FAVOR. CLAIMANT THEN WOULD HAVE BEEN ADEQUATELY COMPENSATED, FOR LOSSES INCURRED, DUE TO THE NEGLIGENCE OF A CORPORATION, THAT WAS HIRED TO KEEP THE BUILDING, AND ALL COMMON AREAS SAFE FOR EVERY RESIDENT. THEY FAILED IN EVERY ASPECT.
Based on our review of the record and the applicable law, we are satisfied that the jury verdict does not constitute a miscarriage of justice, and plaintiff's contentions to the contrary are without sufficient merit to warrant extended discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(B) & (E). We add only these brief comments.
At the time of her accident, plaintiff had owned her condominium unit for approximately five years. During this period, she was a member of the Park Street Condominium Association (Park Street), which hired defendant Preferred Management, Inc. (Preferred), to maintain the property. Preferred hired Florio Landscaping Contractors (Florio) in either 2000 or 2001 to perform snow removal services for Park Street. Although plaintiff testified that she had complained to Preferred that Florio "took too long to send the plows out," plaintiff acknowledged that she had never complained to Park Street or Preferred about the quality of the snow removal work performed by Florio.
At approximately noon on January 15, 2005, plaintiff observed Florio clearing the snow from the parking lot of the complex she lived in. Plaintiff decided that she wanted Florio to plow her parking spaces and went outside to move her two vehicles. After moving her first vehicle, plaintiff slipped and fell. When she was asked to describe the area where she fell, plaintiff provided the following testimony:
Q. What was the surface of the ground like on which you were walking? In other words could you see the ground or was it covered?
A. No. I could not see the ground.
Q. What was on the ground?
A. Snow and ice and they had already plowed in that area at that time.
Q. When you say it was already plowed, in other words the snow and ice was not from a fresh fall and it had been removed but there was still something on the ground?
A. There was still a lot on the ground.
Q. Was it completely covered or were there just patches of it?
A. It was completely covered.
Q. Did you notice any material, anything like salt, any compound, any grit, any gravel, any sawdust, anything at all that might have been strewn on the premises for the purposes of safety or use?
A. No, I did not.
William Muller, who was employed by Preferred, testified that he began serving as the property manager for Park Street in 2000. He testified that when there was a snowfall, Florio would "plow the parking lot, they shovel the sidewalks, and they apply an ice melt down, usually calcium chloride." According to Muller, Florio would apply sand or salt after their first plowing, and "they would apply additional salt if necessary." He also testified that he had never received any complaints regarding the snow removal work performed by Florio.
Michael Florio, the President of Florio Landscaping, testified that his company only applied salt or sand after the snow plowing work was completed:
When the plowing is done, then we salt it. We have trucks in the area. Like I said, we do ten buildings in the area. We dispatch the salt truck immediately. We don't even leave the site. We'll say we're almost done, we've got another 10 or 15 minutes and the truck will come in and plow -- I mean salt.
In his summation to the jury, Florio's attorney stated that "Florio Landscaping did nothing wrong, they were operating as a reasonable prudent snow removal contractor, but plaintiff interrupted their work and tried to move her car before we had an opportunity to complete our work and she fell." And the attorney for Park Street and Preferred told the jury that a different snow removal contractor would have been hired if there were any legitimate complaints from the condominium owners or the property manager regarding the snow removal work performed by Florio. On the other hand, plaintiff's attorney told the jury that they should allocate responsibility for the accident between "management, the contractor and the plaintiff." And he argued that it would be "wrong," "unfair," "mean spirited," and it would reward carelessness if the jury concluded that the accident was "all [plaintiff's] fault."
Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by excluding certain evidence and by precluding Robert Ramsey and Joseph Demott from testifying. We note that plaintiff's testimony regarding the condition of the parking lot on the day she fell was not disputed, and neither Mr. Ramsey nor Mr. Demott observed the condition of the area where plaintiff fell on the day of the accident. Accordingly, there has been no showing that the court excluded witnesses who possessed information relevant to a disputed fact. The trial court also excluded certain photographs and other documents based on well-settled evidentiary standards.
We are bound, of course, by the broad discretion accorded trial judges in making evidentiary rulings. State v. Brown, 170 N.J. 138, 147 (2001); Green v. N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co., 160 N.J. 480, 492 (1999). We review evidentiary decisions for an abuse of discretion, and will reverse such decisions only where the trial judge committed a clear error of judgment. Brown, supra, 170 N.J. at 147; Green, supra, 160 N.J. at 492. We have been directed not to substitute our own judgment for that of the trial judge unless the judge's "ruling 'was so wide of the mark that a manifest denial of justice resulted.'" Brown, supra, 170 N.J. at 147 (quoting State v. Marrero, 148 N.J. 469, 484 (1997)). Accord Green, supra, 160 N.J. at 492. In this case, we find no abuse of discretion or reversible error.
A jury verdict should not be set aside unless, having given due regard to the opportunity of the jury to pass upon the credibility of the witnesses, it clearly appears that there was a miscarriage of justice under the law. Baxter v. Fairmont Food Co., 74 N.J. 588, 599 (1977); Dolson v. Anastasia, 55 N.J. 2, 6-7 (1969); Law v. Newark Bd. of Educ., 175 N.J. Super. 26, 37 (App. Div. 1980); see also R. 2:10-1. In this case, plaintiff did not offer any expert testimony regarding defendants' standard of care, and we are satisfied that it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that defendants were not negligent.
December 4, 2006