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De Paris v. Women's National Republican Club, Inc.

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

March 2, 2017

Comtesse Suzanne De Paris, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Women's National Republican Club, Inc., Defendant-Respondent.

          Pollack, Pollack, Isaac & DeCicco, LLP, New York (Brian J. Isaac of counsel), for appellant.

          Baxter Smith & Shapiro, P.C., White Plains (Sam R. Shapiro of counsel), for respondent.

          Friedman, J.P., Acosta, Mazzarelli, Andrias, Moskowitz, JJ.

         Order, Supreme Court, New York County (Paul Wooten, J.), entered August 5, 2015, which granted defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, reversed, on the law, without costs, and the motion denied.

         Plaintiff, a long-time member of defendant, Women's National Republican Club, arrived at an event at the club between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m on September 7, 2011. She would go to the club maybe twice per week. Although this was the beginning of cocktail hour, plaintiff, who walked with a cane, was "not a drinker" and had only a "sip" of wine. Sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m., she went into the restroom. According to plaintiff, the floor was made of "old marble." When she took her first step with her right foot, and with her cane on the floor, she fell.

         After she fell, she "felt the wetness, the waxiness of the floor, " which she described as "over-waxed." She also testified that her "shoe made a demarcation line on the floor because the floor was over-waxed, and [she] saw the line." She did not, however, check her shoe for wax. She also stated that she did not see the wax before the accident. She did not know how long the wax was on the floor, and stated that "the cleaning man, " who she later described as Hispanic, must have put the wax on the floor. She was certain that the floors were waxed, but acknowledged that she had never personally seen anyone waxing the floors at the club. She had no knowledge regarding what products were used to clean the floor.

         Carol Simon, the director of club membership, responded to the scene after being informed of the accident. She arrived in the bathroom and found plaintiff lying on the floor. She asked plaintiff what happened, and plaintiff said she slipped, but did not say what caused her to slip. Simon looked in the area where plaintiff had fallen [it is not clear if she did this before or after the ambulance arrived], and saw nothing that looked slippery or wet, nor did she see any scuff marks. The only place she had ever seen floors waxed in the building was in the grand salon on the third floor.

         In support of its motion for summary judgment, defendant submitted the above testimony and an affidavit by Margaret O'Connor, the general manager of the club. As pertinent to this appeal, O'Connor averred that, pursuant to the practices and procedures in effect as of September 7, 2011, the porters at the club never applied wax to the floor of the ladies' room on the ground floor, and cleaned the floor with the use of a mop and water only. No additional cleaning agents were used to clean the floor. She further averred that she was on duty on the day of the incident from 9:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. and that the last time the floor in the ladies' room on the ground floor was mopped that day was in the morning.

         O'Connor also stated that Seydou Nohou, whose hours were from 2:00 p.m. to 10:45 p.m., was the porter on duty on September 27, and that his duties did not include the mopping of the floor in the ground floor ladies' room and that he did not mop the floor in the ground floor ladies' room at any time during his shift. At no time on September 7, 2011 was any wax applied to the floor of the ground floor ladies' room nor on any day prior to the incident.

         When O'Connor departed the club that day at 6:45 p.m. the floor of the ground floor ladies' room was free of any water, wax or debris. She also averred that neither she nor any of her staff received any complaints regarding a wet, slippery or slick condition in the ladies' room on the ground floor.

         Defendant argued that there was no actual or constructive notice of any wet, slippery or slick condition in the bathroom, and the fact that a floor is slippery by reason of its smoothness or polish, in the absence of proof of a negligent application of wax or polish, does not give rise to a cause of action for or an inference of negligence.

         In opposition to defendant's motion, plaintiff submitted her own affidavit, in which she averred, as pertinent to this appeal, "While I was still down on the floor after I fell I looked at the floor where I had fallen and I saw the mark of the wax on the floor, from my shoe. I saw a big line, the dent of my shoe in the wax all the way that I fell. After I fell, I felt the wetness, the waxiness of the floor." She understood that defendant's employee stated that wax was never used on the floor, but "[b]ased upon [her] own observations after [she] fell, as well as what [she] felt on the floor following [her] fall, there is no question that there was an over abundance of wax upon the floor, and that this over abundance of wax is what caused [her] to fall and sustain injury."

         In opposition to defendant's assertion that it had no actual or constructive notice of any wet, slippery or slick condition in the bathroom, plaintiff argued that defendant caused the defect by improper waxing, and so notice was not required.

         The court found that defendant made a prima facie showing that it did not create the hazardous condition, through the testimony of its employees that it never waxed the floor of the bathroom where plaintiff fell. The court rejected plaintiff's assertion that her description of the floor as "over waxed" gave rise to an inference that defendant created the defect. The court also found plaintiff's testimony, that she saw and felt the wax, to be "mere speculation" and insufficient to constitute evidence that the floor was waxed. The court also found that, even if plaintiff established the presence of wax, there was no evidence that defendant was responsible for its presence on the floor, and there was no evidence of how long it had existed, to raise an issue of fact as to constructive notice. With regard to plaintiff's assertion that defendant created the defect, and so notice was irrelevant, the court again noted that plaintiff's assertion that she slipped on wax was "pure speculation and based on her belief that ...


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