In Perkel v. Apex Furniture Manufacturing Co. Limited, No. A-5825-09 (App. Div. June 21, 2011), the plaintiff was at work and wearing two-inch wedge sandals on the day of the subject incident. Someone had taken a chair from her office, which she found in a carpeted hallway. She was walking backwards pulling the chair's arms with the chair facing her. The chair became caught on the carpet and the plaintiff stumbled and lost her balance. She sustained a displaced fracture of the metatarsal in her right foot and other injuries.
The plaintiff sued Apex Manufacturing Company Limited ("Apex"), the manufacturer; Affordable Office Furniture, Inc. ("Affordable), the distributor; and Xexlor Corporation, doing business as Seatz, Etc. ("Seatz"), the seller. The plaintiff's theory was that hard floor glides on the chair posed a risk if used on carpeted floors. Pursuant to Seatz's request, those hard floor glides are standard on all sled-based chairs that Seatz sells to the plaintiff's employer, the State of New Jersey. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants on three grounds: 1) the plaintiff failed to prove that the glides were the proximate cause of her injury; 2) under the Product Liability Act ("PLA"), the defendants did not breach any duty to warn because "'the danger presented by walking backwards while moving a chair ten to fifteen feet on carpet, in two-inch wedge heels was so obvious that [a] warning was not required'"; and 3) the plaintiff's expert offered an inadmissible net opinion.
The Appellate Division affirmed. First, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court's conclusion that the obvious dangers of what the plaintiff was doing at the time of the accident did not require warnings from the manufacturer, seller, or distributor. Moreover, the Appellate Division noted that the plaintiff's own deposition testimony did not establish a connection between the design of the chair and her fall, as proximate cause "must be more than the sequence of events described by [plaintiff]." Hence, because there was no basis for finding proximate cause, the Appellate Division ruled that the PLA did not apply, thereby relieving the defendants of any duty to warn.
The Appellate Division also agreed with the trial court's assessment of the plaintiff's expert's opinions. After reviewing the governing Rules of Evidence and precedent concerning the admissibility of expert evidence, the Appellate Division recounted that the plaintiff's expert report stated that the chair was hazardous when used on a carpeted floor due to the hard floor glides. The Appellate Division observed that the expert did not do anything more than the jury could have if they were placed in a room and allowed to experiment with the chair. In that regard, the Appellate Division stressed that the expert did not rely upon any methodology or formula for his opinion; he did not refer to any industry standards or practices; and he did not compare the subject chair with other similar chairs. In short, "[t]he expert simply did not identify a generally accepted, objective standard from which any defendant had deviated. He broadly stated his opinion, without recounting the 'why and wherefore.'" Lastly, the Appellate Division rejected the plaintiff's argument that an expert opinion was not required because her claim that the hard floor guides were defective was not self-evident and could only be proved through qualified expert testimony.