On March 6, 2019, Kenneth S. Merber successfully obtained summary judgment and the complete dismissal of all claims asserted against Wawa in multiple lawsuits involving serious injuries and a fatality. On August 17, 2021, the dismissals were affirmed by New Jersey’s Appellate Division finally resolving the lawsuits commenced in 2016 while obtaining decisions completely vindicating Ken’s clients.
The lawsuits arose from two motor vehicle accidents that occurred one year apart at the same location on a public roadway in front of a Wawa franchise. In both instances, a driver traveling westbound on Route 322 made an illegal left turn while attempting to enter one of the entrances to the store’s parking lot and struck a motorcycle traveling eastbound on the highway. In the first accident, the motorcycle driver was killed and his wife, a passenger, was seriously injured. In the second accident, the motorcycle driver was seriously injured. The injured parties and the estate of the decedent filed suits against Wawa, the entity that owns the convenience store and the State which owns the highway and the land on which the store’s driveway entrances are located. Plaintiffs’ claims against Wawa were predicated on their contentions that Wawa negligently designed and maintained its property and signs and thereby, caused or created hazardous conditions that resulted in multiple similar accidents. They further argued that a commercial landowner had a duty to protect its invitees and that duty may extend beyond its premises for activities from which it directly benefits. Plaintiffs argued and the Court found that it was reasonable to conclude Wawa could have received an economic benefit from drivers accessing its parking lot by making an illegal left turn from the highway.
Mr. Merber and his trial team initially successfully persuaded the Court to deny the plaintiffs’ motions to consolidate the lawsuits arguing defendants would be unfairly prejudiced by the consolidation. Ken and his team then obtained summary judgment in all lawsuits by successfully arguing that Wawa was not negligent and that the duty to maintain and control traffic on public roadways, including all signage, rested with public entities and not private property owners. Ken argued and Wawa’s experts opined that Wawa had no duty to provide signage or to take prohibitive measures to prevent motorist from violating the motor vehicle laws and/or disregarding the jug handle at the location. After obtaining summary judgment and dismissal of all claims, the plaintiffs’ appealed. Having successfully coordinated many trials and appeals together, Ken and Wawa engaged Matthew Naparty and his firm to handle the appeal. The Court’s rulings affirm the precedents that a commercial landowner has no duty to regulate or control the conditions of property it does not own.