by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)
In the past, I have written about whether property owners can be liable for slip-and-fall accidents caused by ice and snow on their sidewalks. (Click here, here, and here for examples.) This is the first time I will address the related topic of whether property owners can be liable for accidents caused by "spiky seed pods" that fall from sweetgum trees on their property. Turns out that the source of the slippery sidewalk does not change the law too much for residential property owners.
In Neilson v. Dunn, plaintiff was injured when she slipped on spiky seed pods that fell from a sweetgum tree on defendant's property onto an adjacent sidewalk. The tree had been on defendant's property since she and her husband bought it, and plaintiff knew that there were seed pods on the sidewalk when she began her walk. Defendant also "employ[ed] a lawn maintenance contractor whose services include fall and spring clean ups." The most recent clean up occurred two month's prior to plaintiff's accident.
After plaintiff sued, defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that she could not be liable for plaintiff's injuries because she had neither created nor exacerbated a dangerous condition on the sidewalk. She argued that the "seed pod accumulation" was a natural condition over which she had no control, and that she acted reasonably in retaining a lawn maintenance service to "periodically clean up any debris, [including the seed pods,] on her lawn and sidewalk." Plaintiff countered that defendant had a duty to ensure that her property was spiky seed pod free and that her failure to do so created a hazardous condition.
Continue reading “Homeowner not liable for sweetgum spiky seed pod slip and fall”
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?
Continue reading “Condo Association Not Immune From Liability For Slip-And-Fall On Its Private Sidewalk”
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.
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.