Plaintiff’s Decedent Amelia Cius was crossing the roadway at 9:30 pm when she was fatally struck by a car on Whitehorse-Mercerville Road. The driver of the car explained that he did not see the decedent because she was wearing dark clothing. She was not in the crosswalk while crossing the road. The issue in Deravil v. Pantaleone, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2252 (App. Div. Nov. 1, 2019) was whether the Township and the County could be held responsible for the accident on the basis that the roadway was in a dangerous condition.
The area where the decedent was struck lacked functioning street lights. Also, the plaintiff alleged that the trees and utility poles obstructed the view of the road for both pedestrians and drivers.
The sidewalk on the eastern side of Whitehorse-Mercerville Road abruptly terminated at the point of impact. The plaintiff’s counsel speculated that the decedent entered the roadway because the sidewalk ended. However, plaintiff’s complaint alleged that she was attempting to cross the road when she was struck by an oncoming car.
In a summary judgment motion, the Township and the County both argued that they were not liable under the Tort Claims Act. The Township contended that it did not own or control the roadway. The County argued that the roadway was not in a dangerous condition. Both argued that the decedent “failed to exercise due care in crossing the road.”
The trial judge granted summary judgment, relying on the Supreme Court’s case of Vincitore ex rel. Vincitore v. N.J. Sports & Exposition Auth., in which the Court determined that the purpose of the road “was to facilitate vehicular travel and plaintiff presented no evidence suggesting the road was unsafe for that purpose.” Further, the judge found that there was no evidence that the road was unsafe for pedestrians if used “in a normal and foreseeable manner by crossing at designated crosswalks.” The decedent’s failure to use the designated crosswalks was unreasonable.
The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court judge that summary judgment was warranted as to the two public entities. It noted that the plaintiff presented no evidence that the roadway itself was dangerous. The Court stated that “[t]he termination of the sidewalk, inadequate street lighting, or the location of trees and utility poles were not physical characteristics attendant to the road.” To determine whether a dangerous condition of public property exists under the Tort Claims Act, one must examine “the physical condition of the property itself and not to the activities on the property.”
The Appellate Division also noted that the driver of the car was using the road as intended at the time of the accident. The decedent’s use of the road, however, was “so objectively unreasonable” that the condition of the roadway itself could not have caused the injury. The decedent, wearing dark clothing, was walking across a four lane roadway at night. The Court found that the decedent’s conduct “was indicative of a lack of due care, precluding a finding of any actionable dangerous condition to impose liability on the Township or the County.” Thus, the Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the Complaint as to both public entities.
Betsy G. Ramos, Esq. is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and Co-Chair of the Litigation Group. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years’ experience handling diverse matters. Her practice areas include tort defense, insurance coverage, Tort Claims Act and civil rights defense, business litigation, employment litigation, construction litigation, estate litigation and general litigation.