This Blog has previously discussed the impact of Prioleau v. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Inc., 223 N.J. 245 (2015) on slip-and-fall plaintiffs in New Jersey. A recent federal case out of the District of New Jersey once again shows that this ruling is having an impact on the ability of injured patrons to secure justice.
In Romeo v. Caesar’s Entertainment Operating Co., Docket No. 13-2133 (D.N.J. Jan. 26, 2016), the patron (Mr. Romeo) alleged that he slipped and fell on a spilt drink on a common walkway at a casino. It was undisputed that the casino encouraged people to walk around with drinks; in fact, the casino employed over 145 cocktail servers just to accommodate its guests’ beverage needs. Mr. Romeo argued that because drink services are an integral part of the casino’s mode of operation, he should be relieved of proving that the casino knew or should have known about the spilt drink. After all, shouldn’t the casino have foreseen that these patrons who they have plied with free drinks would spill them on the walkways?
The District Court disagreed and, applying Prioleau, found that “[Mr. Romeo] cannot demonstrate the required nexus between the spill and [the casino’s] alleged self-service operation.” Why? Because “[t]here is no proof in the record that the spilt liquid in this case came from Defendant’s beverage service. … [T]he nexus between that service and [Mr. Romeo’s] accident is tenuous; we do not know the identity of the person who spilled his beverage and therefore cannot determine whether or not he got the beverage from [the casino].”
Seriously? The connection between a spilt drink and a business that hands out free drinks to patrons as they walk around the premises is tenuous? Does the District Court really expect that, when a patron is injured as a result of slipping on a spilt drink in a business, that patron is going to then crawl around and find the cup?
Luckily for Mr. Romeo, there was a videotape of the third-party dropping the drink and Mr. Romeo then slipping and falling on it. “The camera that captured the spill and subsequent fall appears to zero in on an individual …, which [Mr. Romeo] claims suggests human manipulation and therefore imputes notice upon the casino.” That evidence was enough for the District Court to conclude that there was “a genuine issue of material facts exists as to whether or not [the casino] had constructive notice of the spill.”