Not So Breaking News: Residential Homeowners Still Not Liable If You Slip On Their Sidewalks

Sidewalk (pd)It seems like every week the Appellate Division issues a decision confirming, yet again, that residential property owners are not liable for slip-and-fall accidents that occur on their sidewalks. I have blogged about some of these cases here, here, here, and here. Apparently some plaintiffs have had enough, however, as the opening sentence in the Appellate Division's recent decision in Corry v. Barbieri makes clear:

In appealing the dismissal of their complaint, plaintiffs argue that "the time has come to abandon the unenlightened standard" that insulates residential landowners from liability for injuries caused by abutting sidewalks.

Unfortunately for plaintiffs in Corry, notwithstanding their pleas, the Appellate Division was not willing to change the law on residential landowner liability.

The facts in Corry were unfortunate but not uncommon. Plaintiff was walking with her family on the sidewalk in front of defendant's home when she tripped over a "raised and severely broken portion of the sidewalk." The fall caused her to suffer "a severe rotator cuff injury." She sued, defendants moved for summary judgment, the trial court granted the motion, she appealed.

In its decision, the Appellate Division provided a brief history of abutting landowner sidewalk liability. First, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that landowners were never liable. It then reversed course, partially, and held that commercial landowners could be liable, but not residential landowners. Since then, the Supreme Court (and lower courts) have wrestled with the commercial/residential distinction, but the core holding remains the same – residential landowners are not responsible for negligently failing to maintain the sidewalks in front of their homes.

In Corry, the Appellate Division acknowledged that the law on this issue had evolved in the past 40 years, but observed:

[T]he [Supreme] Court's recent opinions reveal its continued adherence to a residential landowner's immunity from liability for injuries caused by abutting public sidewalks. Like the trial court, we are bound to these principles; only the Supreme Court can say whether it is time for a change.

I, for one, am just happy that I do not have a sidewalk.

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