Plaintiffs have the burden of proof when establishing the negligence of defendants. In Frison v. A-1 Limousine et al., plaintiff appealed from two orders granting summary judgment: one in favor of Trenton Mercer Airport, Mercery County, and Mercer County Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, and one in favor of non-public entity defendants, A-1 Limousine, Inc. and Andre Williams.
Plaintiff was on a shuttle bus at Trenton Mercer County Airport, which she was taking to a remote parking lot used by the airport’s customers. The driver of the bus, defendant Andre Williams, dropped plaintiff off in an unlit area of the gravel-surfaced lot. As plaintiff exited the bus, she lost her footing and fell to the ground. Plaintiff sustained a tear in the meniscus of her left knee and fractured a bone in her right foot. Both defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court granted both motions. Plaintiff subsequently appealed, arguing that defendant A-1 acted unreasonably in dropping plaintiff off in a “dangerously dark portion of the gravel parking lot” and alleging that the Trenton Mercer Airport acted in a palpably unreasonable manner by not installing lights in the parking lot.
The appellate court first addressed plaintiff’s arguments with respect to the public entities. The appellate court found that the heightened “palpably unreasonable” standard applies to dangerous conditions on public property and is intended to comport with the principles of liability used by the courts for local public entities in their capacity as landowners. Additionally, the appellate court opined that the Torts Claim Act defined a “dangerous condition” as a condition that creates a substantial risk of injury when such property is used with due care in a manner in which it is reasonably foreseeable that it will be used. Applying that standard, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that a “dangerous condition” existed in the parking lot. Plaintiff provided no proof that the condition was dangerous such that it presented a substantial risk of injury.
With respect to plaintiff’s claims against A-1, the court found that plaintiff failed to establish a legal basis to impose a duty of care under the circumstances presented. Plaintiff offered no proof that the vehicle’s condition caused her to fall. A-1 neither owned nor had the duty to maintain the parking lot. Additionally, plaintiff presented no proof that A-1 had notice of any condition of the lot as to implicate a duty to warn. As such, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision on both motions and opined that defendants cannot be liable due to plaintiff’s failure to use due care.
Considering the lessened duty for municipalities, and the lack of any duty for the bus company, plaintiff simply fell in an unfortunate place for her to recover. The defendants held plaintiff to her burden here, and prevailed. Thanks to Steve Kim for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.