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Kaplan v. The Home Depot

A-2472-00T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2002) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER’s LIABILITY— There is no difference between a landowner’s obligation to keep planted areas within a parking lot safe and its obligation to keep the parking lot safe; all areas to which the public is invited should be reasonably safe for patrons.

A store’s customer fell while crossing an island that ran through the store’s parking lot. The island separated rows of parking spaces and contained a few shrubs and trees. It was covered with mulch and bordered by four inch Belgian stone. The island was slightly elevated above the parking lot and had no paths cutting through it for passage by customers. This particular customer headed down one aisle, but realized that his car was parked in an adjacent row. He attempted to cross the island, but did not see its downward slope and slipped on damp mulch as he proceeded downward. The lower court found that the store did not have an obligation “to make a planted area, spaced with trees and shrubbery, the entire way down to the parking island safe for traverse ... in a form of guarantee of someone’s safety in crossing the island.” The lower court also concluded that the customer had not demonstrated any dangerous condition on the island or for that matter any “condition other than one would expect to find on a planted island.” On appeal, the Court held that there was “no difference between the scope of [a store’s] duty regarding the parking lot, its store and the islands within the parking lot. All areas to which the public was invited had to be reasonably safe for its patrons.” Nonetheless, the actual scope of this particular store’s duty was not relevant because, as the lower court had found, no matter how rigorous the standard of care, the customer did not prove negligence on the store’s part.

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