The New Jersey courts have consistently held that a commercial property owner‘s obligation to keep sidewalks and other portions of its property free from snow and ice does not begin until a reasonable period of time after the snow has stopped falling. The idea is that the owner should only need to have the sidewalk cleared once, and not continuously during the storm.
However, the Appellate Division in a recent published decision flipped that rule, holding that it was a question for the jury whether it was reasonable for a commercial owner to wait until the snowfall ended to begin cleanup of its property.
In this particular case, weather conditions caused black ice to form. The plaintiff used meteorologists to establish that three storms had occurred over a six day period, and that it was drizzling sleet at the time of plaintiff‘s falldown. Plaintiff‘s expert engineer indicated that the property owner should have pretreated the sidewalk with anti–icing and de–icing materials due to the weather forecast for precipitation.
The Appellate Division held that a commercial landowner has a duty to take reasonable steps to make a public sidewalk abutting its property covered by ice or snow, reasonably safe. It stated that such a duty cannot always wait until a storm ends. Rather, if the owner knew or should have known of a hazardous condition, a jury could consider whether the owner‘s failure to act was negligent under the facts of the particular case.
This decision will undoubtedly be appealed, so let‘s see what happens when the New Jersey Supreme Court has the last word.
The above case shows the usefulness of meteorologists and engineers to establish a case involving a falldown. I have retained many such experts in my personal injury cases to show the negligence of commercial landowners. Call today for a free initial consultation.