Jimenez v. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 430 (App. Div. March 4, 2015)

On March 4, 2010, Hiram Jimenez met his brother at an Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill in Westampton, New Jersey. Hiram ordered fajitas and the waitress brought a “sizzling skillet,” and placed it in front of him, adding, “enjoy your meal.” After the waitress walked away, Hiram began to pray. As he bowed his head towards the table, he heard a sizzling noise, followed by “a pop noise,” and then suddenly felt a burning sensation in his left eye and on his face.

Hiram panicked, knocking his plate over onto his lap. He tried to push away from the table with his right arm, using his left arm to brush the food from his lap. Hiram called for help, and Applebee’s employees came to help. Eventually, a manager provided Hiram with an incident report form, which stated, “hot food order [] burned me after grease popped causing several burns to face, neck and arms.”

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Applebee’s, alleging he was injured as the result of the defendant’s negligence, specifically when he came into contact with a dangerous and hazardous condition, consisting of a plate of hot food. He claimed serious and permanent personal injuries, although he said the burns left no scarring. The defendants filed an answer denying liability and filed a motion for summary judgment.

The trial judge determined that while the defendants did have a duty to provide reasonably safe premises, they had no duty to warn against a sizzling plate of food that presented an open and obvious danger. The judge found for the defendants, granting their motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by granting the motion for summary judgment, and the issues involved should have been reserved for the jury. The Appellate Division found the risk of injury was foreseeable, as the plaintiff described the plate of food as sizzling, smoking and really hot. Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling and no recovery was permitted.

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