NJ: Retailer Not Responsible For Sharp Knives

The N.J. Appellate Division recently analyzed whether a plaintiff has a claim for negligence when he is harmed by an obvious and dangerous item on display at a retail store.

In Khutorsky v. Macy’s, Inc., a husband and wife visited Bloomingdale’s to shop for pots and pans. The husband began to examine kitchen knives placed in a butcher block located in an unlocked, glass-faced cabinet. Other high-end knives would be in a locked display to avoid theft. While pulling a knife from the block, it began to slip from his hand. He swatted at the knife to avoid getting struck in the thigh and as a result cut two tendons and required surgery.

Plaintiffs subsequently filed suit claiming that the above-referenced injuries resulted from Bloomingdale’s negligence. Bloomingdale’s moved for summary judgment arguing that it did not breach a duty owed to plaintiff nor was it the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries. The Court granted Bloomingdale’s motion finding that the threat of cutting one’s self with a knife is so patently obvious that there was no duty to provide a warning. Plaintiffs appealed in part arguing that there were genuine issues of fact including whether Bloomingdale’s was negligent that should have precluded summary judgment.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision. While a retail store has a duty to provide a reasonably safe premises, it has no duty to warn of dangers that are open, obvious and easily understood. Furthermore, no breach could be found in the way Bloomingdale’s displayed the knives. Nothing was hidden or conspicuous in the knife display and the plaintiff had already examined several knives before being injured. The Court found this fact pattern similar to where a plaintiff injures himself after diving into the shallow end of a swimming pool despite knowing the depths of the pool. Summary judgment was therefore appropriate under these circumstances.

The death of common sense has been greatly exaggerated.

Thanks to Andrew Marra for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please email Paul at mailto: pclark@wcmlaw.com