Social hosts and party rental companies need to be extra cautious in connection with the safety of their premises in order to avoid injuries by festive party goers. In Poliziani v. Culinary Institute of America, the appellate court reversed the order of the lower court which granted summary judgment to the defendant Culinary Institute of America dismissing the plaintiff’s personal injury complaint.
Here, plaintiffs were attending an event hosted by the Culinary Institute of America. After dinner, the plaintiff began dancing on a temporary dance floor. While dancing, the plaintiff fell, after she slipped on the beveled edge between the dance floor and the adjoining rug strikign her her head, injuring her right wrist and losing consciousness. Plaintiff subsequently commenced this action against the defendant and the company that provided the tent rental who also supplied the temporary dance floor. The defendants argued that they were entitled to summary judgment on the grounds that the beveled edge was not defective or hazardous, and constituted a nonactionable “trivial” defect. The Supreme Court granted this motion and the plaintiff now appealled.
The appellate court held that whether a dangerous or defective condition exists on the property of another so as to create an actionable issue of liability depends on the peculiar facts and circumstances of each individual case. A defendant who is seeking dismissal of a complaint on the basis that the alleged defect is trivial must make a prima facie showing that the defect is, under the circumstances, physically insignificant and that the characteristics of the defect do not increase the risks posed by the equipment. The Court of Appeals held that even a physically small defect may be actionable, like a jagged edge or irregular rough surface, especially in situations where the defect is located where people are distracted from easily observing it (like in this case where people were not expected to look down at their feet). Thus, in reversing the trial court’s order of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the appellate court concluded that there are triable issues of facts as to whether there was a dangerous condition created even by a small defect. As such, party goers and party hosts should remain diligent, as this case sets a clear warning that even small, relatively insignficant defects can give rise to liability.
Thanks to Nicole Lyalin for her contribution to this post. Please email Vito A. Pinto with any questions.