Condo Association Not Immune From Liability For Slip-And-Fall On Its Private Sidewalk

Shovel (PD)The latest chapter in the "can I be sued if someone slips and falls on the sidewalk in front of my house after it snows" saga has been written. In Qian v. Toll Brothers Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a condominium association was responsible for clearing snow and ice from the private sidewalks that it controlled, and therefore could be liable for injuries caused by its failure to do so. 

The general law on this issue is well-settled. Historically, no property owners had a duty to maintain the sidewalks on property that abutted public streets, but this changed in the early 1980’s, when the New Jersey Supreme Court imposed such a duty on commercial property owners, but not residential property owners. Therefore, commercial property owners are required to remove snow and/or ice from the sidewalks abutting their property, but residential property owners are not.

In practice, however, the law has proven easier to state than apply. What about situations involving property that is both residential and commercial (click here for more on that)? Or, situations where the injured party is a tenant who is injured on the landlord's property (click here for more on that)? Or, situations where the property is in foreclosure (click here for more on that)? Or, the issue in Qian, situations where the property is a condominium or common-interest community?

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Just In Time For Summer, A New Decision On When You Are Required To Clear Snow From Your Property

In the recent past, I have written several posts about when property owners can be liable for accidents caused by their failure to shovel snow from the sidewalks abutting their property. The basic rules are well settled – residential property owners generally don't have a duty to shovel but commercial property owners do. Therefore, my posts focused on the more unique (and hopefully, interesting) cases. For example, one post discussed whether a property was residential or commercial, and therefore whether the property owner would be required to shovel or not, when the owner lived in one unit of the multifamily building and rented out the other units. Another post discussed whether a lender who obtained final judgment of foreclosure on a commercial property, but that had not yet taken title to the property through a sheriff's sale, was required to shovel the sidewalks around the building.

Now there is another case that is somewhat different than the traditional snowy sidewalk slip and fall. In Holmes v. INCAA-Carroll Street Houses Corp, plaintiff was a tenant in a property owned by defendants. She sued after she slipped, while on the way to her car, on "an accumulation of snow" approximately three feet from the doorway to her apartment. (The area where she fell was actually not a sidewalk, but was instead a "lawn or grassy area," but this  distinction was not relevant to the court's decision.) A snowstorm has been raging since the night before. The snow had slowed, and perhaps even stopped, by the morning of the accident, but the storm had nonetheless dropped more than 15 inches of snow on the area. The conditions in the area were so severe that, when plaintiff's son called an ambulance to take her to the hospital, the ambulance company refused because of poor road conditions. The roads were not clear until the following day, at which point plaintiff drover herself to her doctor's office to be examined.

Plaintiff alleged that defendant had a duty to clear the snow from the property. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no duty to do so in the middle of a storm. The court agreed with defendant.

 

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Slip Sliding Away: NJ Supreme Court Rules That Condominium Has No Duty To Clear Snow And Ice From Public Sidewalks

by:  C. John DeSimone, III

 It has long been settled common law that commercial landowners have a duty to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks abutting their land, but that residential landowners have no similar duty (Stewart v. 104 Wallace Street). In Luchejko v. City of Hoboken, decided on July 27, 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court described the commercial/residential dichotomy as a bright-line rule. Commercial landowners have a common law duty to clear snow and ice from abutting public sidewalks, residential landowners do not. The Luchejko Court held that a residential condominium building, because it is residential, does not have a common law duty to clear snow and ice from abutting public sidewalks. The Court found that the form of the property ownership, in this case, a corporate condominium entity, did not subject the Association to the same liability that would have fallen on a commercial landowner. In doing so the Court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff's personal injury action at summary judgment. The Court also held that the management company, as the agent of the Association, owed no duty to the plaintiff and affirmed its dismissal.