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Frank Caruso v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

June 2, 2011

FRANK CARUSO,
PLAINTIFF
v.
STARWOOD HOTELS & RESORTS WORLDWIDE, INC.; COVE HAVEN, INC., D/B/A COVE HAVEN RESORT; TALENT SPECTRUM, INC.; JOHN SALVATO; SATURN SYSTEMS, INC.; KC SATURN SYSTEMS, INC.; CHRISTOPHER CHALFIN; AND KENNETH CHALFIN, DEFENDANTS
v.
EMPERORS OF SOUL F.S.O. THE TEMPTATIONS; SELECTIVE INSURANCE COMPANY OF SOUTH CAROLINA; THE WOODRING-ROBERTS CORPORATION; THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court are the motions for summary judgment of Defendants Christopher Calfin and Saturn Systems, Inc. and Defendants Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide and Cove Haven, Inc. ("the Resorts"). Having been fully briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.

Background

This case concerns a slip-and-fall accident suffered by Plaintiff Frank Caruso. On July 29, 2007, plaintiff, an employee of the Temptations musical group, was at work helping to set up for a performance at the Cove Haven Resort in Lakeville, Pennsylvania. (Defendants Christopher Calfin and Saturn Systems, Inc.'s Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 90) (hereinafter "Defendants' Statement") at ¶ 2). Plaintiff slipped and fell while carrying an item down a ramp at the rear service entrance of the resort. (Id. at ¶ 1). This aluminum ramp, which had been placed over the step of the back entrance of the building, had been used by plaintiff and other workers setting up the show. (Id. at ¶ 3).

Plaintiff had used this ramp before. Before the July 29 show, plaintiff had helped set up six to eight Temptations shows. (Id. at ¶ 5). Plaintiff used the aluminum ramp on each of those occasions, going up and down the ramp some 100 times for each show. (Id. at ¶ 6). He never had difficulty using the ramp on those occasions. (Id. at ¶ 7). He was also unaware of any other user of the ramp having difficulty because the ramp was slippery or unsafe. (Id. at ¶ 8). Plaintiff had never before, however, used the ramp when it was raining or the ramp was wet. (Plaintiff's Counterstatement of Material Facts (Doc. 94) (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Statement") at ¶ 6).

Plaintiff had used the ramp three or four dozen times on the day he fell.

(Defendants' Statement at ¶ 9). He did not have problems walking up or down the ramp the first three or four dozen times he used it. (Id. at ¶ 10). He did not find the ramp slippery or wet at all. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 14). Plaintiff did not notice that the ramp had grease on it before he fell. (Id. at ¶ 15). He did not complain to anyone about the condition of the ramp before he fell, and he did not see anyone else having problems either. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13).

In describing his fall, plaintiff reported that he was carrying a duffle bag at the time he slipped. (Id. at ¶ 16). He had exited the building and went to use the ramp. (Id.). When plaintiff put his foot down, he got no traction on the ramp. (Id.). The bag plaintiff was carrying weighed 60-70 pounds, and plaintiff testified that the bag made him "top heavy." (Id. at ¶ 17). Plaintiff testified that "I attributed a large portion" of the cause of his fall "to the fact that I'm carrying equipment over my arm, I am top heavy." (Id. at ¶ 18). "[S]till," plaintiff testified, there "had to have been a reason why my foot didn't grip on this diamond plated ramp, which has been around awhile." (Id. at ¶ 18). The parties disagree over whether plaintiff testified that he was unaware of the cause of his fall. (See Defendants' Statement at ¶ 19; plaintiff's statement at ¶ 19). Defendants point to testimony where plaintiff expresses uncertainty about the cause of his fall. (Defendants' Statement at ¶ 19). Plaintiff points to several points in his deposition where he describes the cause of his fall as the fact that the ramp was "old and worn" and the ground wet. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 19). Plaintiff also contends that grease and rain water had been tracked onto the ramp and made it slippery, though defendants point out he testified that he did not see any wet areas or oily substances on the ramp itself. (Id. at ¶ 20; Defendants' Statement at ¶ 20). It was not raining as plaintiff walked down the ramp a final time, though plaintiff points out that it was still misty and had rained shortly before he fell. (Defendants' Statement at ¶ 21; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 21).

Plaintiff testified that he was uncertain if defendants were aware of the slippery conditions of the ramp, but that he knew they were aware of the generally worn and slippery nature of the ramp. (Defendants' Statement at ¶ 23; Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 23). Plaintiff points out that Defendant Christopher Chalfin testified that the ramp had been purchased used and was old. (Plaintiff's Statement at ¶ 26).

Plaintiff filed a complaint in this action on July 14, 2009. The complaint contains three counts, each of them alleging negligence against different defendants. Count I alleges that Defendant Starwood was negligent in maintaining the premises. Count II alleges that Defendant Talent Spectrum was negligent in maintaining and placing the ramp. Count III alleges that Defendant Saturn Systems was negligent in maintaining and inspecting the premises in question.

After the parties engaged in discovery, Defendants Cove Haven and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 84). Defendants Christopher Chalfin and Saturn Systems also filed motions for summary judgment. (Doc. 87). The parties then briefed the issues, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

Plaintiff is a citizen of California. Defendant Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is a New York corporation with its principal place of business in that state. Defendant Cove Haven, Inc., is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in that state. Defendant Talent Spectrum, Inc., is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey. Defendant John Salvato is a citizen of New Jersey. Defendant Saturn Systems, Inc., is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania. Defendant KC Saturn Systems, Inc., is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in that state. Defendant Christopher Chalfin is Pennsylvania citizen. Defendant Kenneth Chalfin is a Pennsylvania citizen. The amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. The court therefore has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 ...


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