210 A.2d 617 (N.J. 1965), A--81, Mayer v. Housing Auth. of City of Jersey City

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Writing for the Court[10] Per Curiam
Citation210 A.2d 617,44 N.J. 567
Date01 June 1965
Docket NumberA--81.
PartiesWilliam MAYER, an infant, by his guardian ad litem, James Mayer, and James Mayer, individually, Plaintiffs-Respondents, v. HOUSING AUTHORITY OF the CITY OF JERSEY CITY, a body corporate and politic of the State of New Jersey, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 617

210 A.2d 617 (N.J. 1965)

44 N.J. 567

William MAYER, an infant, by his guardian ad litem, James

Mayer, and James Mayer, individually, Plaintiffs-Respondents,

v.

HOUSING AUTHORITY OF the CITY OF JERSEY CITY, a body

corporate and politic of the State of New Jersey,

Defendant-Appellant.

No. A--81.

Supreme Court of New Jersey.

June 1, 1965

Argued March 2, 1965.

On appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439. [44 N.J. 568]

Robert E. Tarleton, Jersey City, for appellant (Beggans & Keale, Jersey City, attorneys).

Janet W. Freeman, Newark, for respondents (Fred Freeman, Newark, attorney).

PER CURIAM.

The judgment is affirmed for the reasons expressed in the opinion of Judge Labrecque in the Appellate Division.

WEINTRAUB, C.J., concurs in result.

For affirmance: Chief Justice WEINTRAUB and Justices JACOBS, FRANCIS, PROCTOR and SCHETTINO--4.

For reversal: Justices HALL and HANEMAN--2.

HANEMAN, J. (dissenting).

The facts with which we are here concerned are generally adequately recited in the Appellate Division opinion, 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964). The thesis of plaintiff's case is that he was

Page 618

hit by a stone thrown by some unknown person (presumably another child) while enjoying the playground facilities provided by the defendant; that the throwing of the stone and the contact of that missile with plaintiff was a foreseeable incident; and that it was defendant's duty to furnish sufficient supervisory personnel at the playground to prevent such an accident. The foundation of plaintiff's case is proof that the injury was caused by such a thrown stone, as only upon an affirmative determination of that postulate can the question of defendant's liability arise.

Neither plaintiff nor any of the other nine boys playing baseball with him, nor any of the numerous spectators, saw how plaintiff was injured. Aside from testimony by one of plaintiff's playmates that after plaintiff was struck, and bleeding profusely, he noticed a stone on the ground near where plaintiff had been standing, 'with blood on it,' plaintiff relies entirely upon testimony of stone-throwing antedating this accident as proof that it must have been a thrown stone which struck him in the eye. The testimony that children threw stones on prior occasions ran the gamut of from two or three times a year to once or twice a week. The description [44 N.J. 569] of the stones thus allegedly thrown varied from pebbles to the size of golf balls. There was no evidence of stone-throwing in the vicinity of the ballfield on the day inquestion. The only evidence on this particular point is that one of the participants in the baseball game had seen two nine-year-old boys throwing stones about an hour before plaintiff's accident in a section some 350 feet away from, and not facing, the playing field in question. The manager of the housing project testified that there had been no complaints about stone-throwing nor any reports of accidents therefrom.

Proceeding from the hypothesis that the accident did occur as plaintiff alleges, the defendant can be liable only if it had a duty to this particular plaintiff to provide supervisory personnel adequate to prevent the tortious intervening infant behaviorism, and if it breached such a duty. Only after the imposition of such a duty is the question of negligence, i.e., the breach of that duty, reached. I conceive that no such duty should be imposed.

Although the Appellate Division opinion adverts to the fact that:

'Initially, it is to be noted that the area in question is one over which the landlord retained control. It was designed for the use to which it was being put at the time of the happening of the accident. The rule is well settled that a landlord owes to tenants and their children a duty of reasonable care as to such portions of the premises.' 84 N.J.Super., at p. 417, 202 A.2d at p. 442,

it in reality does not bottom its conclusion on traditional rules which govern tortious liability arising from the landlord-tenant relationship, e.g., Doud v. Housing Authority of City of Newark, 75 N.J.Super. 340, 344, 183 A.2d 149 (App.Div.1962), but upon the more flexible thesis of a generalized standard of negligence applicable to all landowners, based upon care commensurate with the reasonably foreseeable danger, 84 N.J.Super., at pp. 417--418, 202 A.2d 439. The Appellate Division, in effect, follows that line of cases which has imposed a general duty on the owner or occupier of land to use reasonable care under the circumstances of the case. Thus, when the presence of [44 N.J. 570] the child upon the land should have been anticipated, whether that child is a trespasser, licensee or invitee, a duty arises to protect that child from Dangerous conditions existing on the land. The basis of liability is the foreseeability of harm; and the measure of duty is care in proportion to the foreseeable risk, regardless of the relationship of the landowner defendant to the infant plaintiff. As stated in the leading case of Strang v. South Jersey Broadcasting Co., 9 N.J. 38, 45--46, 86 A.2d 777, 780 (1952): 'The particular relation gives rise to a legal duty commensurate

Page 619

with the demands of reasonable foresight for harm.' See Simmel v. N.J. Coop Co., 28 N.J. 1, 9, 143 A.2d 521 (1958); Wytupeck v. City of Camden, 25 N.J. 450, 464, 136 A.2d 887 (1957); Imre v. Riegel Paper Corp., 24 N.J. 438, 444--445, 132 A.2d 505 (1957); Healing v. Security Steel Equipment Corp., 51 N.J.Super. 123, 132--133, 143 A.2d 844 (App.Div.1958). Thus, the decision herein cannot be limited to its facts, but the proposition of law now announced is as applicable to a private or public landowner as to a housing authority, as is the scope of the duty imposed.

Such a duty is defined in Wytupeck v. City of Camden, supra, 25 N.J., at pp. 461--462, 136 A.2d at pp. 893--894, as follows:

"Duty' is not an abstract conception; and the standard of conduct is not an absolute. Duty arises out of a relation between the particular parties that in right reason and essential justice enjoins the protection of the one by the other against what the law by common consent deems an unreasonable risk of harm, such as is reasonably foreseeable, Lokar v. Church of the Sacred Heart, 24 N.J. 549, 133 A.2d 12 (1957). In the field of negligence, duty signifies conformance 'to the legal standard of reasonable conduct in the light of the apparent risk'; the essential question is whether 'the plaintiff's interests are entitled to legal protection against the defendant's conduct.' Prosser on Torts (2d ed.), section 36. Duty is largely grounded in the natural responsibilities of social living and human relations, such as have the recognition of reasonable men; and fulfillment is had by a correlative standard of conduct.

'Duty' is not a rigid formalism according to the standards of a simpler society, immune to the equally compelling needs of the present order; duty must of necessity adjust to the changing social relations and exigencies and man's relation to his fellows; and accordingly the standard of conduct is care commensurate with the reasonably [44 N.J. 571] forseeable danger, such as would be reasonable in the light of the recognizable risk, for negligence is essentially 'a matter of risk * * * that is to say of recognizable danger of injury.' Prosser, Ibid., section 30.'

See also Kahalili v. Rosecliff Realty, Inc., 26 N.J. 595, 603, 141 A.2d 301, 66 A.L.R.2d 680 (1958); Johnson v. Kolibas, 75 N.J.Super. 56, 65, 182 A.2d 157 (App.Div.1962); McKinley v. Slenderella Systems of Camden, N.J., Inc., 63 N.J.Super. 571, 581, 165 A.2d 207, 88 A.L.R.2d 1101 (App.Div.1960).

An integral element to be considered on the question of the existence of a duty is the factual determination whether there exists a reasonably forseeable danger against which the defendant should protect the plaintiff. The test has been said to be whether the reasonably prudent person would recognize and forsee an unreasonable risk or likelihood of harm or danger to others. McCabe v. N.J. Turnpike Auth., 35 N.J. 26, 35, 170 A.2d 810 (1961); Rappaport v. Nichols, 31 N.J. 188, 201, 156 A.2d 1, 75 A.L.R.2d 821 (1959). The negligence may consist in the creation of a situation which involves unreasonable risk because of the expectable action of another. Rappaport v. Nichols, supra, 31 N.J., at p. 201, 156 A.2d 1.

There can be no doubt that it is forseeable that children of tender years will indiscriminately throw stones, not necessarily in a combative spirit or at a human target, but for the mere joy of releasing their pent-up energy and testing their physical prowess. Nor can their propensity to throw snowballs in the winter time, or to engage in fisticuffs at any time, pass unrecognized. Space does not permit the further cataloguing of their many other natural proclivities which might result in

Page 620

injury to some third person. A list would reach tremendous proportions. Only a vivid imagination could abstractly and in advance recite the many activities which stimulate, and which are stimulated by, their curiosity and animal vitality. All manner of accidents and injuries occasioned by normal youthful conduct are foreseeable whether on the playing field, at public parks, on the highways and byways, or on private property. This proposition was most aptly expressed by Judge Jayne in Diglio v. Jersey Central Power [44 N.J. 572] & Light Co., 39 N.J.Super. 140, 141, 120 A.2d 650, 651, (App.Div.1956), when he stated:

'Although the modern inclinations of teenagers and adults have become somewhat unpredictable, the natural propensities of children of tender years continue to be reasonably foreseeable. Their instincts have been too repeatedly observed over the ages to elude common knowledge. Their responsiveness to allurement has existed before...

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19 practice notes
  • 256 A.2d 289 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1969), Gallas v. Public Service Elec. & Gas Co.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • August 4, 1969
    ...that some harm might occur thereby. Mayer v. Housing Auth. of Jersey City, 84 N.J.Super. 411, 425, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964), affirmed 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 (1965); Avedisian v. Admiral Realty Corp., 63 N.J.Super. 129, 133, 164 A.2d 188 (App.Div.1960); Black v. Public Service Elec. &a......
  • 412 A.2d 436 (N.J. 1980), Trentacost v. Brussel
    • United States
    • New Jersey United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • March 12, 1980
    ...Inc., 63 N.J. 577, 311 A.2d 1 (1973); aff'g o. b. 123 N.J.Super. 48, 301 A.2d 463 (App.Div.1973); Mayer v. Housing Auth. of Jersey City, 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 (1965), aff'g o. b. 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964). [2] In view of our limited grant of certification, we expres......
  • 237 A.2d 495 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1968), A--1376, Black v. Public Service Elec. & Gas Co.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • January 11, 1968
    ...that some harm might occur. Mayer v. Housing Authority of Jersey City, 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964), affirmed o.b. 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 (1965). Accordingly, the judgment entered below in favor of defendant is reversed and the case is remanded for a new trial in accord......
  • 646 A.2d 522 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1994), Saldana v. DiMedio
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • August 18, 1994
    ...N.J. 318, 327, 230 A.2d 133 (1967); Mayer v. Housing Authority of Jersey City, 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964), aff'd o.b., 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 (1965); Doud v. Housing Authority of Newark, 75 N.J.Super. 340, 345, 183 A.2d 149 (App.Div.1962). For example, in B.W. King v.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 cases
  • 646 A.2d 522 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1994), Saldana v. DiMedio
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • August 18, 1994
    ...N.J. 318, 327, 230 A.2d 133 (1967); Mayer v. Housing Authority of Jersey City, 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964), aff'd o.b., 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 (1965); Doud v. Housing Authority of Newark, 75 N.J.Super. 340, 345, 183 A.2d 149 (App.Div.1962). For example, in B.W. King v.......
  • 228 A.2d 65 (N.J. 1967), A--47, Titus v. Lindberg
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • March 20, 1967
    ...support in the evidence. See Mayer v. Housing Auth. of Jersey City, 84 N.J.Super. 411, 423, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964), affirmed 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 Smith advances the further contention that, even if lack of due supervision be assumed, Lindberg's deliberate conduct rather than Smith......
  • 412 A.2d 436 (N.J. 1980), Trentacost v. Brussel
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • March 12, 1980
    ...Inc., 63 N.J. 577, 311 A.2d 1 (1973); aff'g o. b. 123 N.J.Super. 48, 301 A.2d 463 (App.Div.1973); Mayer v. Housing Auth. of Jersey City, 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 (1965), aff'g o. b. 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439 (App.Div.1964). [2] In view of our limited grant of certification, we expres......
  • 619 A.2d 575 (N.J. 1993), Bligen v. Jersey City Housing Authority
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • January 27, 1993
    ...issue of municipal landlord liability in Mayer v. Housing Authority of Jersey City, 84 N.J.Super. 411, 202 A.2d 439 (1964), aff'd o.b., 44 N.J. 567, 210 A.2d 617 (1965). In Mayer a father sued the Housing Authority after his son had been injured by a stone thrown in a playground. The manage......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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