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Alleged negligent crowd control at movie theater - Absence of ropes and stanchions to control crowd flow during opening weekend of "The Passion of the Christ" - Plaintiff knocked to floor by unidentified individual as crowd steps over her and around her to reach sole ticket taker - Two slightly displaced fractures to right humerus - Full thickness rotator cuff tear.

Somerset County

The 55-year-old plaintiff, who went with her husband to the defendant’s theater for the Saturday ten p.m. showing on the first weekend after the controversial movie was released, related that she and her husband waited in line for about 45 minutes to purchase the tickets. After purchasing the tickets, the plaintiff and her husband entered the theater. Inside the lobby area, they saw a large, uncontrolled crowd waiting to give tickets to the sole ticket taker. The plaintiff established that there were no ropes or stanchions in the lobby to control the crowd flow. The plaintiff said this large, uncontrolled crowd was moving toward the ticket taker. The movie was scheduled to start at ten p.m. The plaintiff’s ticket stub showed they purchased their tickets at nine fifty three p.m., leaving seven minutes to get into the theater. The Plaintiff eventually moved up to the ticket taker.

The plaintiff contended that as her husband was handing the two tickets to the ticket taker, the large crowd moved forward and tried to get around the sole ticket taker. As the crowd moved forward, she was pushed violently from behind by a tall, husky man. The plaintiff, who is five feet and one inch tall and 94 pounds, fell forward onto her outstretched arms. The man looked down at plaintiff and said he didn’t see her. According to plaintiff, the rest of the crowd stepped over and around her to get past the ticket taker. The man who pushed plaintiff was not a theater employee and was never identified or located. The plaintiff’s husband picked his wife up off the theater floor and took her to a nearby bench. After applying some ice to her right arm, the husband took the plaintiff to the emergency room.

The plaintiff’s security expert contended that the defendant theater was negligent because it had no ropes or stanchions in the lobby and had no security officers on the premises to handle crowd control. The expert opined that the defendant should have foreseen the likelihood of crowd control issues for the ten p.m. showing of The Passion of the Christ on its first weekend in the theaters. The plaintiff’s expert opined that the defendant’s negligence was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s accident. The defendant did not use a liability or security expert.

This theater had seven auditoriums. Both the plaintiff and her husband said there were no ropes or stanchions in the lobby area to control or organize the crowd. They said there were no lines, just a large group of people trying to get to the ticket taker. The manager admitted that the theater had no security guards on the premises at the time of the accident. The manager said this theater only had seven auditoriums and was not as busy as some of the larger complexes owned by the defendant that have 24 or 30 auditoriums.

The defendant argued that it is impossible for a company to stop random, spontaneous accidents or "bumps" in a public setting. The defendant contended that no matter how many security officers were in the theater at the time, an accident could still occur if someone accidentally pushed someone else to the floor. The defendant denied that it was negligent or was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s accident. The defendant argued that the accident was the fault of the man who pushed plaintiff down.

In the emergency room, the plaintiff complained of right arm pain. X-rays revealed two right arm fractures in the upper humerus. The fractures were slightly displaced. The plaintiff maintained that a subsequent right shoulder MRI revealed a full thickness tear of the rotator cuff. Surgery was recommended for the rotator cuff tear, but the plaintiff refused to have surgery. The plaintiff and her treating orthopedic expert testified that she still had limited range of motion of the right arm and shoulder. The plaintiff testified that her daily activities at home are still affected by the limitations she has in her right arm and shoulder. The plaintiff’s orthopedic expert testified that the two arm fractures and the rotator cuff tear were caused by the theater accident and the injuries were permanent.

The plaintiff missed seven weeks from work as a licensed social worker. She presented loss wage proofs that were about $________. The defendant called a neuroradiologist, who opined that there was no rotator cuff tear on the MRI.

The jury returned a defense verdict on liability, finding that the defendant was not negligent on the night of the accident.

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