Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Jersey Court Declines to Impose Liability on A Condominium Association for a Slip and Fall on Interior Sidewalk

After muddling through multiple snowstorms this winter, this article is particularly appropriate to compose on a snow day!

In a recent decision, the Appellate Division declined to impose liability on a condominium association for a plaintiff’s slip and fall that occurred on an interior sidewalk within the community property.

New Jersey imposes a duty on commercial property owners to maintain sidewalks adjacent to their business property, in “reasonably good condition” and imposes liability when the failure to do so results in injury to a pedestrian.  Stewart v. 104 Wallace Street, Inc., 87 N.J. 146 (1981).

Recently, in Qian v. Toll Brothers, Inc. et al., 2014 WL 476306, the Court rejected a plaintiff’s attempt to extend the duty imposed on a commercial property owners to a condominium association.
Traditionally, New Jersey law recognizes that residential property owners have no common law duty to their maintain sidewalks adjacent to streets and roads used by the public.

More specifically, in New Jersey, a condominium complex is recognized as a residential entity and therefore protected from liability due to a slip and fall on its abutting public sidewalk.  Luchejko v. City of Hoboken, 207 N.J. 191 (2011)

In Qian, the plaintiff, aware of and concerned about ice accumulation, slipped and fell on ice on an association interior sidewalk after a walk to the market.

The plaintiff argued that the association by-laws required it to maintain the common elements and the association, in fact, collected maintenance fees in order to do so. The Association had also contracted with a landscape maintenance company to remove snow and ice.

The Court declined to agree with the plaintiff’s assertion that an interior sidewalk in a private community was different from an abutting public sidewalk since all members of the public had access.

Interestingly, in Qian, the Court did acknowledge the factual difference in the location of the fall in the Luchejko case but noted any departure from the commercial/ residential distinctions would need to be addressed by the Supreme Court.

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