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Gordon v. American Museum of Natural History

    Brief Fact Summary.

    When Gordon (Plaintiff) slipped on a piece of wax paper from a contracted vendor, he sued the American Museum of Natural History (Defendant) for negligence in not discovering and remedying the dangerous condition.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    To form constructive notice, a dangerous condition must be visible and apparent and must exist long enough before the accident to allow defendant to discover and remedy it.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff was walking down the entrance stairs from the American Museum of Natural History when he fell and was injured. He claimed that he saw a piece of white, waxy paper near his foot as he fell. He further alleged that the paper came from a nearby concession stand that Defendant contracted to have present. Plaintiff sued Defendant, claiming that Defendant’s employees were negligent in not discovering and removing the paper before Plaintiff slipped on it. The case was submitted to the jury on the theory that Defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition. The jury found for Plaintiff and the appellate division affirmed. Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Does constructive notice require that a dangerous condition be visible and apparent and exist long enough before the accident to allow defendant to discover and remedy it?

    Held.

    (Memorandum) Yes. To form constructive notice, a dangerous condition must be visible and apparent and must exist long enough before the accident to allow defendant to discover and remedy it. Here, there is no evidence that anyone, including Plaintiff himself, saw the wax paper before the accident. Plaintiff did not describe the wax paper as dirty or worn, indicating it had been in place for some time. Neither general awareness of possible litter nor the fact that Plaintiff saw other papers on another portion of the steps ten minutes before his accident is legally sufficient to have put Defendant constructively on notice of the dangerous condition. There is similarly no evidence of Defendant’s actual notice of the condition. The order of the Appellate Division should be reversed.

    Discussion.

    It is impossible to set detailed standards of conduct to cover every possible occurrence in advance of it occurring, so the details must be filled in by the facts of each specific case. The question to be decided is what a reasonable person would do under the particular circumstances of that case. This question is answered by a jury in all questionable cases in order to allow conduct of individuals to be judged by the public and not by lawyers.



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