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Municipal Violation Does Not Give Rise to Tort Liability (NJ)

June 1, 2018

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A municipal ordinance that seemingly created tort liability was challenged in <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Doremus-v.-DeLorenzo.pdf">Doremus v. DeLorenzo</a></em>. Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants alleging she sustained personal injuries while walking on the sidewalk by defendant’s residential property. Plaintiff asserted that a town ordinance required abutting property owners to maintain the sidewalk, and failing to do so would impose liability on the property owner.
The ordinance stated in part that in an on any public street, the sidewalks shall be maintained at the expense of the abutting property owner as provided by the law. The courts have long held that municipal ordinances cannot create tort liability with regard to residential landowners. Further, it is well-settled law that residential homeowners are not liable for injuries caused by the condition of sidewalks abutting their property.
The only exception to this rule is where a residential property owner negligently repairs the public sidewalk by themselves for the direct use, or where the owner obstructs the sidewalk in such a manger as to render it unsafe for passersby. However, plaintiff did not allege that the defendant engaged in negligent repairs or obstruction of the sidewalk.
Ultimately, the court found that a municipal ordinance does not, and <em>cannot</em> impose liability on defendants. As such, defendant was protected by common-law public sidewalk immunity and plaintiff’s claims were dismissed.  Thanks to Steve Kim for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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