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La Russa v. Four Points at Sheraton Hotel

360 N.J. Super. 156, 821 A.2d 1168 (App. Div. 2003)

LIABILITY; LANDOWNER’S LIABILITY; CONTRACTORS—A delivery person who tracks melting snow into a building causing a puddle has a duty to notify the owner of the risk created by such activity.

In this case, the Appellate Division imposed a duty on a delivery person to warn a hotel owner that the snow he tracked in created a hazardous condition because it became a pool of water. When there are foreseeable events posing a risk of harm, a duty of care is imposed on those able to prevent the harm, including a duty to warn of a known or apparent danger. The Court found that the risk that someone would slip and fall in the puddle was a serious and foreseeable risk. Therefore, the delivery person had an obligation to warn the hotel owner of the dangerous condition, even if he was under no obligation to clean up the puddle. The Court rejected the delivery person’s argument that, as an independent contractor, he had no obligation to clean up the puddle or warn the owner. The Court also found the delivery person’s relationship to the hotel and his ability and opportunity to exercise care to be factors in determining if he owed a duty of care. It noted that the delivery person was at the hotel to serve interests common to it and the hotel, he created the hazardous condition; it was apparent that the puddle was a dangerous and foreseeable risk; and he had the opportunity (with minimum effort) to prevent injury by warning the hotel’s owner. Based on the totality of circumstances in this case, the Court ruled that it was it was appropriate to require the delivery person who created the safety hazard to warn the owners of the dangerous condition to prevent foreseeable and serious injuries to invitees or employees of the hotel.

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