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Not So Slippery Slope: NJ Supreme Court Rules On Slip And Fall Snow / Ice Cases (NJ)

June 10, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">We previously reported a decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division in <em>Pareja v. Princeton International Properties</em>, which held that commercial landowners have a duty to prevent or remediate snow and ice conditions on their sidewalks even when precipitation is falling. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, has <a href="">reversed</a> the Appellate Division and has held that the commercial landowner owes no duty to the public to prevent or remediate snow and ice conditions while precipitation is falling.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Supreme Court stated that the Appellate Division’s holding did not consider the size, resources and the ability of commercial landowners or recognize that what may be reasonable for larger commercial landowners may not be reasonable – or even possible, for smaller ones. The Court stated that it did not wish to submit every commercial landowner to litigation when it was not feasible to provide uniform, clear guidance as to what would be reasonable. The Court declined to impose a duty that could not be adhered to by all commercial landowners.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The premises of the ongoing storm rule is that it is categorically inexpedient and impracticable to remove or reduce hazards from snow and ice while precipitation is ongoing. The Court stated that the duty is triggered within a reasonable time after the storm.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">However, the Court set forth two exceptions to the rule. A commercial landowner may still be liable if its actions increase the risk to pedestrians and invitees on its property by creating “unusual circumstances” where the defendant’s conduct exacerbates and increases the risk of injury to plaintiff. Second, a commercial landowner may be liable where there was a pre-existing risk on the premises before the storm.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">One Justice dissented arguing that a landowner can simply apply salt to its premises during an ongoing storm. The majority stated that this argument ignores the diversity of storms a landlord may confront and that measures like spreading salt in a heavy snowstorm or ice storm can be ineffective or even enhance the danger, thus imposing an untenable duty of care on landlords.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">It is rare to see New Jersey courts put a stop to the ever growing and expanding tort liability that commercial owners and tenants face in this state. However, this is an important change in a defendant’s duty in connection with slip and fall cases.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Mike Noblett for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact <a href="">Colleen Hayes</a>.</p>

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