Russell v. Merck & Co., Inc.

CourtNew Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
Writing for the CourtSTERN
Citation211 N.J.Super. 413,511 A.2d 1247
Decision Date02 July 1986
PartiesTony RUSSELL, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. MERCK & COMPANY, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

Page 413

211 N.J.Super. 413
511 A.2d 1247
Tony RUSSELL, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MERCK & COMPANY, INC., Defendant-Appellant.
Superior Court of New Jersey,
Appellate Division.
Argued May 20, 1986.
Decided July 2, 1986.

Page 414

Charles F. Waskevich, Jr. for defendant-appellant (Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro & Murphy, attorneys).

Stuart S. Ball for plaintiff-respondent (Ball, Kiernan, Livingston & Smith, attorneys).

Before Judges MICHELS, GAULKIN and STERN.

The opinion of the court was delivered by

STERN, J.S.C., temporarily assigned.

Defendant appeals from a judgment in favor of plaintiff for injuries plaintiff sustained when playing softball on a field owned and maintained by defendant, his employer.

Defendant challenges the determinations of the trial court that it owed plaintiff the duty of care applicable to an invitee as opposed to a licensee and claims that, in any event, plaintiff's status was a question for the jury to resolve in the absence of judgment in defendant's favor as a matter [511 A.2d 1248] of law. Defendant also argues that the verdict was against the weight of the

Page 415

evidence and that the court erred in permitting plaintiff's expert witness to testify from his report.

Following trial, the jury found plaintiff and defendant each 50% negligent and assessed plaintiff's damages at $80,000. Judgment was entered for plaintiff in the amount of $40,000, plus interest and costs.

In early May 1982 plaintiff, an employee of defendant, was approached by another employee, Bobby Zullo, the captain of the Dynasty softball team, who suggested that he try out for the team. Zullo had also solicited new members for the team by placing an ad in the Daily Reporter, a company newspaper published by defendant. The Dynasty team was one of 12 intramural teams in a softball league composed of and run by defendant's employees. The team members chose team captains who in turn selected a league coordinator. The coordinator scheduled the teams for use of the two fields which were owned by defendant and located adjacent to its buildings in Rahway. The games were played after work and defendant provided the equipment in addition to the field.

On May 4, 1982, plaintiff was on defendant's Grand Avenue field for the first time to try out for the Dynasty team. He was fielding balls in right field when, according to plaintiff, he hit a "big rock, among other things," fell, and "twisted my knee and everything up." According to plaintiff "the field had big rocks in it. It had tree stumps" and "the ground was all unlevel" with small rocks and stones thereon. Plaintiff further testified that he tripped over a rock "as large as a football," and that he had not previously noticed it.

Robert Gregory, employed as defendant's grounds supervisor, testified that his responsibilities included maintenance of the softball fields, including the Grand Avenue field where the accident occurred. He explained that in April 1982 his crew put down clay in the appropriate areas of the Grand Avenue field and that the field was enclosed by a fence which had existed before the area was made into a ball field. There were signs on

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the fence which read: "No Trespassing, Private Property, Merck & Company".

According to Gregory, the company had received complaints about the trees in right field. Although the trees were located beyond the playing areas, the employees had wanted the entire field open so more employees could practice on it at one time. In 1981 Merck hired a company to remove trees from that area. Gregory claimed that the stumps were removed at that time, and were placed "two to three feet into the ground."

Gregory's crew cut the grass on the Grand Avenue field on April 30 and again on May 4, 1982, the day the fields were opened for use. On May 4 the crew used a vacuum mower, which not only cuts grass but also picks up paper, small stones and twigs. The mower cut at a level of two and one-half inches above the ground.

Gregory maintained that he inspected the entire Grand Avenue field on May 4, 1982 and part of the regular duties of his crew was to police the ball field and to look for hazards.

Louis McQueen, a member of the grounds crew employed by defendant, played softball on another of defendant's teams. He testified that the Grand Avenue field was fairly well maintained but that the condition of the field, and particularly the right field area, was "very poor."

Anthony Houck, a research chemist employed by defendant, was in right field when plaintiff fell. He testified that he inspected the field before the practice and warned plaintiff to be careful because the field was "spongy". Houck did not see any rocks on the field and thought that the field was maintained in good condition. He saw that plaintiff's "right foot went out from underneath him and he went to the ground" while chasing a ball in the right field area.

[511 A.2d 1249] Houck also testified that, as a management employee, he personally encouraged employee participation in the softball league because participation by employees was "good for morale" which in turn was good for productivity.

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Defendant contends that both on plaintiff's pretrial motion and when instructing the jury, the court below erred in determining as a matter of law that defendant owed plaintiff the duty of care applicable to an invitee. In instructing the jury at the end of the case the trial judge stated, in part:

Mr. Russell, was an invitee and I'm going to give you what the definition of an invitee and the duty that's owed to an invitee.

An invitee is one who is permitted to enter or remain on land for a purpose of the owner, he enters by invitation, expressed or implied. The owner of the land, in this case Merck, who by invitation, expressed or implied, induced persons to come upon its premise is under a duty to exercise ordinary care to render the premise...

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7 practice notes
  • Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • 16 Junio 1993
    ...311, 153 A.2d 1; Taneian v. Meghrigian, 15 N.J. 267, 271, 104 A.2d 689 (1954); Russell v. Page 434 Merck & Co., 211 N.J.Super., 413, 417, 511 A.2d 1247 (App.Div.1986); Caroff v. Liberty Lumber Co., 146 N.J.Super. 353, 357-58, 369 A.2d 983 The duty owed to a trespasser is relatively slight. ......
  • Monheit v. Rottenberg
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • 27 Noviembre 1996
    ...v. I. Jay Realty, 30 N.J. at 311-12, 153 A.2d 1; Taneian v. Meghrigian, 15 N.J. 267, 271, 104 A.2d 689 (1954); Russell v. Merck & Co., 211 N.J.Super. 413, 417, 511 A.2d 1247 (App.Div.1986); Caroff v. Liberty Lumber Co., 146 N.J.Super. 353, 357-58, 369 A.2d 983 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 74......
  • Van Allen v. Board of Com'rs of Bass River Tp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • 2 Julio 1986
    ...the existence of any asserted power should lead to its denial." We are satisfied that any attempt by the governing body to designate days [511 A.2d 1247] when the tax collector's office must be Page 413 attended could be too easily defeated if unaccompanied by the power to define those days......
  • Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • 2 Diciembre 1991
    ...a licensee or a trespasser. See, e.g., Snyder v. I. Jay Realty Co., 30 N.J. 303, 311, 153 A.2d 1 (1959); Russell v. Merck & Co., 211 N.J.Super. 413, 417, 511 A.2d 1247 (App.Div.1986). The duty owed to an invitee is to use reasonable care to make the premises safe, including the making of a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • 16 Junio 1993
    ...311, 153 A.2d 1; Taneian v. Meghrigian, 15 N.J. 267, 271, 104 A.2d 689 (1954); Russell v. Page 434 Merck & Co., 211 N.J.Super., 413, 417, 511 A.2d 1247 (App.Div.1986); Caroff v. Liberty Lumber Co., 146 N.J.Super. 353, 357-58, 369 A.2d 983 The duty owed to a trespasser is relatively slight. ......
  • Monheit v. Rottenberg
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • 27 Noviembre 1996
    ...v. I. Jay Realty, 30 N.J. at 311-12, 153 A.2d 1; Taneian v. Meghrigian, 15 N.J. 267, 271, 104 A.2d 689 (1954); Russell v. Merck & Co., 211 N.J.Super. 413, 417, 511 A.2d 1247 (App.Div.1986); Caroff v. Liberty Lumber Co., 146 N.J.Super. 353, 357-58, 369 A.2d 983 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 74......
  • Van Allen v. Board of Com'rs of Bass River Tp.
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • 2 Julio 1986
    ...the existence of any asserted power should lead to its denial." We are satisfied that any attempt by the governing body to designate days [511 A.2d 1247] when the tax collector's office must be Page 413 attended could be too easily defeated if unaccompanied by the power to define those days......
  • Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • 2 Diciembre 1991
    ...a licensee or a trespasser. See, e.g., Snyder v. I. Jay Realty Co., 30 N.J. 303, 311, 153 A.2d 1 (1959); Russell v. Merck & Co., 211 N.J.Super. 413, 417, 511 A.2d 1247 (App.Div.1986). The duty owed to an invitee is to use reasonable care to make the premises safe, including the making of a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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