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Defendants Not Liable For Injuries Caused By Uneven Sidewalk

July 18, 2012

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In the recent unreported decision of <em>Maloy v. Schneider</em>, the plaintiff mail carrier brought suit after he tripped on a raised slab of public sidewalk in front of the defendants’ house.  Plaintiff argued that the sidewalk’s uneven condition had been produced by roots growing from a tree located in defendants’ yard.  It was undisputed that the defendants did not plant the tree in question.  Additionally, the defendants denied being aware that the sidewalk was in a dangerous condition prior to plaintiff’s fall.
The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that, as residential landowners, they were not liable for the public sidewalk’s uneven condition, even if the condition was caused by roots emanating from a tree in their front yard.  The trial court agreed, and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint, noting that the defendants had not planted the tree, nor had they undertaken any other conduct to produce the dangerous condition.
The Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s decision, noting that, for decades, the New Jersey Supreme Court has declined to impose a common-law duty upon residential property owners to generally maintain the public sidewalks in front of their home in a safe condition.  Although an exception may apply if the defendants cause the hazardous condition, in this particular case, there was no proof of any affirmative actions on the part of the defendants to create a hazard condition on the abutting sidewalk.
Thanks to Heather Aquino for her contribution to this post.
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