Trimarco v. Klein – Case Brief

Trimarco v. Klein, 56 N.Y.2d 98, 436 N.E.2d 502 (1982).

Case Summary

Facts: Trimarco (P) fell through the glass door enclosing the bathtub in his apartment and suffered severe injuries. After the accident it was determined that the glass was ordinary glass. Trimarco sued his landlord Klein (D) for his injuries.

At trial, Trimarco introduced expert testimony regarding the custom and usage of tempered glass. The expert testified that the use of shatterproof glazing materials for bathroom enclosures had been in common use since at least the early 1950s such that by 1976 the glass door in P’s bathroom did not conform to accepted safety standards. Under New York law, only safety glazing materials had been permitted for use as of 1973. D’s management admitted that it had been customary for landlords to replace glass with safety glass since 1965.

The trial court entered judgment in favor of P. On appeal the appellate division reversed, holding that Klein did not have a duty to replace the glass unless he had prior notice of the danger. P appealed.

Issue:
Can custom and usage establish per se the reasonable person standard?

Holding and Rule: No. Evidence of custom and usage is highly relevant to the reasonable person standard but it does not per se define the scope of negligence. When proof of an accepted practice is accompanied by evidence that the defendant conformed to it, this may establish due care. When proof of a customary practice is coupled with a showing that it was ignored and that this departure was a proximate cause of the accident, it may serve to establish liability. What usually is done may be evidence of what ought to be done, but what ought to be done is fixed by a standard of reasonable prudence, whether it usually is complied with or not.

The court held that in this case P presented more than an abundance of evidence to the jury to reach and sustain the verdict below.

Disposition:
Order for new trial reversed – judgment in favor of P.

Notes: Custom and usage is good evidence of what ought to be done but it must still be reconciled with the reasonable person standard.


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