The facts and legal issues in sidewalk slip and fall cases sometimes read like they are pulled from law school final exams. In New Jersey, the baseline legal rule is clear — owners of commercial properties generally have a duty to maintain, in reasonably good condition, the sidewalks abutting their property, while owners of residential properties do not. But does a property owner have a duty to maintain its sidewalks when:
the property is both residential and commercial, like a multi-family home where one unit is owner occupied and the others are rented (click here for more on that, but the short answer is that it depends on whether the property is primarily residential or primarily commercial ); or
the plaintiff is a tenant and sues the landlord after slipping on a sidewalk outside the rental property (click here for more on that, but usually, yes); or
the property is a commercial property, final judgment of foreclosure has been entered in favor of the lender, but no sheriff's sale has been scheduled (click here for more on that, but if the lender can be considered a mortgagee in possession, then yes); or
the property is owned by a condominium or common-interest community (click here for more, but generally, yes if it's a private sidewalk within the condominium, no if it's a public sidewalk abutting the condominium); or
the property is residential and the fall is caused by sweetgum spikey seed pods that fell from a tree on the defendant's property (click here, but, no).
And now one more can be added to the list thanks to the Appellate Division's decision is Ellis v. Hilton United Methodist Church, where the question presented was whether "sidewalk liability applies to an owner of a vacant church."
I tagged this post in the "banking" category even though its only connection to banking is that it involves a slip-and-fall that occurred in a bank parking lot. But, it offers yet another example of something I have writtenaboutbefore — liability of property owners for accidents that occur on their property.
In Negron v. Warriner's Construction Co., plaintiff slipped on ice and snow in a PNC Bank parking lot that he was using as a short cut to get from his home to a nearby Dollar Store. A morning snow storm dropped approximately 5-6 inches of snow on the area. After the snow stopped, the parking lot was plowed and salted. Plaintiff, who lives across the street from the bank, actually watched the lot get plowed and salted. Several hours after the lot was plowed, a light snowfall covered the lot again with a dusting of snow and, in certain spots, ice underneath.
At around 9 pm, after the second snowfall, plaintiff left his home for the Dollar Store. "Rather than staying on public sidewalks, plaintiff took his normal route by taking a shortcut across the PNC Bank parking lot." This was apparently not uncommon in the neighborhood; residents regularly cut across the lot. There were no fences or gates preventing them from doing so, but there was a "No Trespassing" sign. There was also a sign restricting parking to only bank customers, but this was frequently ignored by neighborhood residents who parked their cars in the lot.
I loved the Pink Panther movies, and one of the more memorable scenes in the series involved Inspector Clouseau trying to pet an innkeeper's dog (or, more accurately, a dog that he thought belonged to the innkeeper:
Other than the fact that both involve a dog bite, this clip does not have much to do with the recent Appellate Division opinion in Ahrens v. Rogowski, but it is a funny clip and worth sharing.
In Ahrens, the Appellate Division was presented with the less humorous case of a woman who was bitten by a dog when "trespassing" on the dog owner's property. I put "trespassing" in quotes because, when I think of trespassing, I think of someone sneaking onto property late at night with nefarious motives, and that is not what happened in Ahrens. Nonetheless, plaintiff was trespassing in the legal sense when she was bitten by the property owner's dog and the Appellate Division was faced with what duty, if any, the owner owed her as a result.