Torts I

Trimarco v. Klein

Court of Appeals of New York, 1982

Facts:

Plaintiff rented from defendant. At the unit's bathtub was a door made out of glass. The defendant did not tell the plaintiff where the glass was safety glass or not, but defendant and his wife assumed it was. One day when plaintiff was leaving the bathtub, he opened the door and it shattered, causing him sever injuries. It had been common practice for decades to use shatter-proof glass in bathtubs, and recommended by federal bulletins.

Procedural History:

Jury awarded plaintiff a judgment of $240,000. Divided appellate court reversed on the law and dismissed the complaint.

Issues:

  • Was it negligent to rent a unit with a potentially dangerous item in it?

  • Bell's: Is evidence of custom and usage in an industry enough to establish standard of care?

Rules:

  • Whether it was negligent or not must be judged by the defendant's conduct under all the circumstances, including that of the customary practice and usage.

  • Bell's: Evidence of custom and usage may be used as evidence of what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances.

    Proof of a customary practice, couple with a showing that it was ignored, may establish negligence.

    • Custom or practice need not be universal, but just fairly well defined and in the same calling or business.

Reasoning:

Installing safety glass was the norm for decades. This custom showed that others did it and that not doing so was unreasonable and negligent given the dangers it could pose.

Holding:

Yes, it is negligent to rent a unit with a potentially dangerous item in it when common practice showed this to be unreasonable. Order reversed and a new trial ordered for improper evidence admitted.

Takeaway:

Negligence must be judged by the defendant's conduct under all the circumstances.

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