Residential Condominium Association Not Liable For Slip and Fall Accidents

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently waded into the ever-changing body of law governing if, and when, property owners can be sued if someone is injured on public sidewalks adjoining the property.  Although property owners were once immune from such liability, the law has evolved over the past 25 years to allow for liability in certain situations.  Despite this trend towards increased property owner liability, on July 12, 2010, a three-judge panel went against this tide, holding that residential condominium associations cannot be sued for injuries suffered by individuals on public sidewalks adjoining their property.  (Luchejko v. City of Hoboken(A-5702-07) decision)  As noted above, this decision is the latest episode in the evolution of the law governing "sidewalk liability."   Prior to 1981, all property owners were immune from liability for injuries occurring on sidewalks adjourning their property.  However, almost 30 years ago, in Stewart v. 104 Wallace St., Inc., 87 N.J. 146 (1981), the New Jersey Supreme Court created an exception to this long-standing rule, and held that commercial property owners could be liable.  Since then, New Jersey courts have expanded upon this exception to impose liability on a variety of commercial and non-owner occupied residential properties.  In Luchejko, however, the Appellate Division held that a non-profit condominium association in an owner-occupied building could not be held liable because, unlike commercial tenants, it had no “ability to pass along the cost of liability.”  It is important to note that the property in question was completely residential, and it will be curious to see where New Jersey courts draw the line with hybrid residential and commercial properties, such as condominiums that lease out some or all street-level space to businesses.

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