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NJ Supreme Court Clarifies Public Entity Immunity Standard

February 4, 2009

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In its recent decision in <i>Ogborne v. Mercer Cemetery Crop</i>., 2009 WL 196047 (2009), the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that when the facts are reasonably debatable as to whether the employee’s actions or the condition of the property caused plaintiff’s accident, then the more stringent “palpably unreasonable” standard applies. Pursuant to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, plaintiffs suing a public entity for a dangerous condition on its property must prove that the entity acted “palpably unreasonably” in not protecting against the dangerous property condition. By contrast, when a public employee’s actions cause plaintiff’s injury, the plaintiff need only prove ordinary negligence. In <i>Ogborne</i>, the plaintiff was accidentally locked inside a cemetery when a cemetery employee closed the entrance gates early. Thus, she was forced to climb a brick wall in order to exit, fracturing her tibia in the process. In keeping with the broad immunity provided in the Tort Claims Act, the Supreme Court determined that the higher “palpably unreasonable” standard should apply in determining the public entity’s liability.
Thanks to Claudi Condruz for her contribution to this post.
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