Law v. Morris

Decision Date17 May 1926
Docket NumberNo. 82.,82.
Citation133 A. 427
PartiesLAW v. MORRIS.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

(Syllabus by the Court.)

Action by Estelle Law against Prank Morris for personal injuries. Judgment for plaintiff, and defendant appeals: Affirmed.

James Mercer Davis, of Camden, for appellant.

Carr & Carroll, of Camden (Walter R. Carroll, of Camden, of counsel), for respondent.

KATZENBACH, J. This is an appeal by the defendant below from a judgment of the Camden county circuit court entered upon the verdict of a jury. The judgment represented the damages obtained by the plaintiff for injuries received as the result, as claimed by the plaintiff, of the defendant's negligence. The defendant owned a store in the borough of Audubon, in the county of Camden. He conducted in the store the business of selling dry goods and notions. The plaintiff was a dressmaker. On May 25, 1923, she desired to purchase some materials for dresses. She went to the defendant's store. The defendant waited upon her. While standing by the counter examining the materials submitted by the defendant for her inspection, a piece of plaster fell without warning from the ceiling and struck the plaintiff upon the head. The plaintiff testified as to this happening as follows:

"The plaster fell down on top of my head; I was stunned; I went to the floor; I remember somebody' picking me up and I remember sitting on a chair."

A physician was summoned. The plaintiff was taken to the hospital and later to her home.

The defendant's version as to what had occurred did not differ materially from the plaintiff's testimony. The plaintiff's case was rested upon proof of the occurrence of the accident and of the damages sustained by the plaintiff. Counsel for the defendant then moved for a nonsuit upon the ground that no evidence of negligence had been shown. This motion was denied, as was also a motion at the conclusion of the defendant's case to direct a verdict for the defendant. The trial judge in declining to grant the motions said that in his opinion the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied. Exceptions to the court's rulings were duly taken. The appellant now contends that it was incumbent upon the plaintiff to prove more than the mere occurrence of the accident. The insistence is that the plaintiff was obliged to prove that the ceiling was defective by either proving that on other occasions portions of it had fallen, or that cracks were visible therein, or some condition of the ceiling existed which should have given to the appellant notice, either actual or constructive, that the ceiling was unsafe.

The appellant relies upon the law as pronounced in the oft-cited case of Schnatterer v. Bamberger & Co., 81 N. J. Law, 558. 79 A. 324, 34 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1077, Ann. Cas. 1912D, 139, where a customer in the defendant's store caught her heel on a brass nosing on a step in a stairway, tripped, and fell down stairs, and it was held that to sustain such an action it must be shown that the storekeeper had notice of the defective condition of the nosing, or that it had existed for so long a time as to charge the proprietor with notice thereof. We have reached in our consideration of this case the conclusion that the facts of the present case warrant the view entertained and held by the learned judge who tried the case. It is a case, in our opinion, in which the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies. This maxim has been frequently defined in the courts of this state. It was well expressed by the late Judge Green in the case in this court of Mumina v. Easton & Amboy R. R. Co., 73 N. J. Law, 653, 65 A. 208, in the following language:

"This principle is that when through any instrumentality or agency under the management or control of a defendant or his servants there is an occurrence, injurious to the plaintiff, which, in the ordinary course of things, would not take place if the person in control were exercising due care, the occurrence itself, in the absence of explanation by the defendant, affords prima facie evidence that there was want of due care."

In the instant case the store premises into which the plaintiff was invited were under the control and management of the defendant. The fall of a sizable piece of plaster upon the head of a customer is not an occurrence which takes place in the ordinary course of things. It is an extraordinary...

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27 cases
  • Brown v. Racquet Club of Bricktown
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • February 14, 1984
    ...ordinarily raises an inference of negligence on the part of the party in control of the falling object. See Law v. Morris, 102 N.J.L. 650, 133 A. 427 (E. & A.1926); Von Staveren v. F.W. Woolworth Co., 29 N.J.Super. 197, 102 A.2d 59 (App.Div.1954); Galbraith v. Smith, 120 N.J.L. 515, 1 A.2d ......
  • Long v. F. W. Woolworth Co.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • March 13, 1942
    ... ... to have his premises in a reasonably safe condition and to ... give warning of latent or concealed perils.'' 118 ... A.L.R. 425, 426; J. C. Penny Co. v. Robison, 128 ... Ohio St. 626, 193 N.E. 401, 100 A.L.R. 710; 58 A.L.R. 136; ... Law v. Morris, 102 N.J.L. 650, 133 A. 427, 46 A.L.R ... 1111; Markman v. Fred P. Bell Stores Co., 285 Pa ... 378, 132 A. 178, 43 A.L.R. 866; 33 A.L.R. 181. See the ... following leading cases in this jurisdiction fully explaining ... the rule: Cluett v. Union Electric Light & Power Co., ... Mo.Sup., 220 ... ...
  • Long v. F. W. Woolworth Co.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • March 13, 1942
    ...118 A.L.R. 425, 426; J. C. Penny Co. v. Robison, 128 Ohio St. 626, 193 N.E. 401, 100 A.L.R. 710; 58 A.L.R. 136; Law v. Morris, 102 N.J.L. 650, 133 A. 427, 46 A.L.R. 1111; Markman v. Fred P. Bell Stores Co., 285 Pa. 378, 132 A. 178, 43 A.L.R. 866; 33 A.L.R. 181. See the following leading cas......
  • Cleary v. City of Camden
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • May 11, 1937
    ...103 A. 37, affirmed Higgins v. Goerke Kirch Co., 92 N.J.Law, 424, 106 A. 394 (falling lid of ice box); Law v. Morris (N.J.Err. & App.) 102 N. J.Law, 650, 133 A. 427, 46 A.L.R. 1108 (falling plaster); Barbero v. Pellegrino (N.J.Err. & App.) 108 N.J.Law, 156, 156 A. 765 (falling brick); Crawf......
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