When Your Snow Day Goes Bad

Liability for Snowy New Jersey Sidewalks, Parking Lots and Driveways

Shoveling Snow

It’s not even technically winter yet but New Jersey has already experienced its fair share of wintry weather. Parts of the state have already received over one foot of snow in the past few days with more snow potentially on tap for the weekend.

Unfortunately for pedestrians, a “White Christmas” can be as dangerous as it is pretty when homeowners and businesses fail to adequately maintain their sidewalks, parking lots and driveways after the storm is over. Accident can range from life-altering damage to discs and broken bones to, in some extreme cases, fatalities attributable to trauma from the fall or a resulting cardiac event.

Ordinarily, liability for personal injury cases of any type hinges on the ordinary tort analysis: establishing (1) that the defendant had a duty, (2) breached that duty, (3) that the breach was  the actual and proximate causation of the injury, and (4) that the breach results in damages. So-called “slip and fall” cases present an extra wrinkle; the “duty” owed to the plaintiff by the defendant depends, at least in part, on a premises liability analysis.

For example, “business invitees,” or those people invited onto the subject property for business or general commercial reasons by the homeowner or business operator, are entitled to a higher level of care than ordinary social guests. Property owners hosting business guests must: (1) inspect to discover defective conditions on the property , and (2) exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe or warn the business invitee of any unknown dangers. A New Jersey court recently held that even owners of vacant commercial properties are subject to the same standards.

The standard for social guests isn’t quite as strict; for example, the homeowner doesn’t need to seek out defective conditions in the same way as a business owner. Trespassers are naturally afforded the lowest standard of care.

All land owners, however, bear responsibility to keep their sidewalks in good repair and free from such other hazards. Those hazards include ice and snow.

“Notice” is key for the reasons discussed above. A hypothetical non-commercial homeowner whose party guest slips and breaks his ankle on a sidewalk banana peel which was thrown out of passing car just 45 minutes might be able to argue that no duty arose for lack of notice. Ice and snow, however, is usually much more difficult to ignore since we all know when a storm is coming thanks to wall-to-wall news coverage and the obvious character associated with snowy conditions.

Many New Jersey towns indirectly address the notice problem by requiring property owners to clear sidewalks, parking lots and driveways of snow and ice, or at least take steps to remedy conditions including throwing down sand and salt, within a set amount of time after the snow stops falling, often within a period of 24 hours.

There are a number of important initial steps that you can and should take before even consulting an attorney if you are the victim of a negligently-maintained sidewalk, driveway or parking lot including photographing the scene if you are able and immediately seeking out medical treatment.

A New Jersey personal injury attorney can help you take the next step specifically by demonstrating both the existence of a hazard and, critically, that the property owner either (1) caused the hazard and/or (2) failed to inspect and/or remedy and/or warn you of the hazard depending, of course, on the applicable premises liability standard. You can see how personal injury cases can be quite complicated particularly in the slip and fall context.

We are here to assist you. If your loved one have been injured due to a slip and fall or a trip and fall, please contact the personal injury lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele online today.  As a DeMichele & DeMichele personal injury client, you will never pay a fee unless we recover for you.  The initial consultation is also confidential and free; call (856) 546-1350 to speak with one of our personal injury attorneys.

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Matt Rooney

Matt Rooney

Matt Rooney is a former Superior Court law clerk, New Jersey attorney and noted political commentator who focuses his practice on family law, municipal court and personal injury matters.
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