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.
Me neither, but that is what happened in Glenn v. Duroseau. In fact, plaintiff in that case alleged that she not only left the money on the counter but that, when she went back a few minutes later, it was gone. To make matters worse, the security camera in the store did not work, so there was no way to tall exactly what happened. The trial court originally held this against the store owner, holding that he had a duty to plaintiff to ensure that the security cameras were working, but this decision was reversed on appeal.
In Glenn, plaintiff claimed that she walked into a UPS Store and placed her pocketbook on the counter, along with an envelope containing $600 in cash. When she left, she claimed that she took the pocketbook but not the envelope. She walked about four blocks away from the store before she realized that she was missing the envelope. When she returned to the store, the envelope was gone. She asked a store employee if he had seen it, but he responded that plaintiff did not leave an envelope in the store. Plaintiff became upset and called her boyfriend, who arrived and told the employee to give plaintiff her money back. The employee again denied that plaintiff had left an envelope in the store.
Plaintiff then called the police. When police officers arrived, they asked if the security cameras in the store were working. The employee did not know, but called his boss, who arrived on the scene and promised to review the tapes. However, it turned out that the security cameras were not working. Plaintiff sued the store owner, seeking the return of her $600.
There is a scene in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" where the main character goes to a surf instructor to teach him how to surf. The lesson is not that helpful because, among other things, the instructor gives the main character advice that is impossible to follow, like: "Don't do anything. Don't try to surf. Don't do it. The less you do the more you do." And, then later: "try less" and "do less."
I was reminded of this decision when I read the Appellate Division's recent opinion in McRoy v. Eskander. In that case, the Appellate Division held that a lender was not a mortgagee in possession and therefore could not be liable for injuries sustained by someone who slipped and fell on the sidewalk in front of the property. The reason the lender could not be deemed a mortgagee in possession was because it had done almost nothing to maintain the property in the 18 months after it obtained a final judgment of foreclosure.
In McRoy, plaintiff slipped and fell on snow and ice in front of a four-unit apartment building that was owned by Defendant Eskander. At the time of plaintiff's fall, however, the building had been vacant for approximately 18 months. Eskander had defaulted on his loan with Bank of America ("BofA"), which led BofA to foreclose on its mortgage on the property. BofA obtained final judgment of foreclosure but had not proceeded to a sheriff's sale at the time of plaintiff's fall. Once final judgment of foreclosure was entered, Eskander stopped maintaining the property. Except for performing yard work once, BofA did not maintain the property either. It did periodically inspect the property to ensure it was vacant and, to protect its collateral, it paid the real estate taxes and a water bill.
If you answered yes to this question, please let me know what you were shopping for.
On Marketplace last night, I heard a story about something land use attorneys deal with all the time — signage. My suspicion is, however, that they never had to deal with signage like this. The story, titled "In China, Signs Translated Into English Baffle," dealt with something called "Chinglish," which is what ex-pats call the hybrid of English and Chinese that results when Chinese officials translate Chinese words into English. (Lest you think that "Chinglish" is some sort of derogatory term, a man is interviewed for the story who is studying for his PhD in "Chinglish" at the University of Heidelberg.) The curious translations abound as a result of the Chinese government's requirement that all merchants display the names of their stores in English, Chinese, and Tibetan. As you might expect, the only outfit performing the translations is a government run operation, and they do not appear to be spending much time confirming that nothing is lost in translation. A few highlights:
"Chinese Ethnic Culture Park," which was translated to "Racist Park;"
"Beware of Falling," which became "Fall Down Carefully;" and
a series of stores called "Veteran Barbecue," "Incense Filled the Street by the Fish," and "Tibetan Technology Supermarket."
(Click here for a slideshow of the signs.) One store that appears to have gotten it right is "Yak Meat," unless of course it is an electronics boutique. Incidentally, Red Grass Buy Horn Monopoly was closed, so the reporter couldn't determine what was actually sold in that store.