NEW JERSEY SLIP & FALL LITIGATION
Every year, scores of people throughout Camden County, Gloucester County and/or Burlington County are injured by slipping on ice or snow. The most important thing a lawyer can do in situations like these is ascertain liability, i.e., whether the property owner had a special legal duty to the injured party and if so, whether they breached that duty.
Liability may be established if:
- The owner (or other person responsible for the premises) caused the dangerous condition by, for example, failing to carry out a legal duty which, had they done so, would have eliminated the risk; OR
- The owner knew about the dangerous condition and did nothing to remove it -or the dangerous condition was a recurring foreseeable event; OR
- The premises owner should have known about the dangerous condition because it would have been apparent to a "reasonable" person who would have taken action to correct the condition that caused the accident.
Simply establishing that the property owner may be liable is not, in and of itself, a guarantee that you would prevail in a legal action you commence. In addition to these things, NJ Courts look at (a) the type of property involved in the case and (b) the Plaintiff's own conduct and behavior to determine whether they were acting in a responsible way, paying attention, or acting in a careless or reckless manner.
RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY: Under NJ Law, private single-family residential homeowners generally have no duty to either remove or warn about any risk associated with the natural accumulation of snow, ice, freezing rain and/or sleet and are generally not liable for any injuries that occur because of an accident caused by this natural accumulation. The reasoning behind this is that when one enters onto another person's residential property, they generally aren't there to further a commercial profit-generating business of the owner. This general rule does not especially apply if a residential owner makes this natural condition worse by what he or she does or fails to do. Also note that this rule does not apply to dwelling places where the owner does not reside, namely, those established for some sort of commercial purpose such as an apartment building, apartment complex or condominiums. These are treated differently.
The rules are much different when it comes to commercial enterprises whether they be stores, apartment complexes, malls, and other types of businesses. Here, the Plaintiff must be able to prove that the property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition and that either an action or a failure to act by the owner created an unreasonable risk of harm. If, however, the dangerous condition was reasonably foreseeable because of the nature of the property owner's business or the landowner acted in a negligent manner, then no actual notice of the dangerous condition and its attendant risk of accident and injury is required. Many times if the owner of the premises had no notice of the condition or did not have a reasonable opportunity to address it, no liability will be incurred.
This general rule requiring notice is not applicable to the situation where a condition is foreseeable. For instance, if you have lived in New Jersey for even one winter you know very well that at some point after a snowfall, the snow is going to melt during the day and refreeze at night. Mostly this is not a problem. But when it happens where a commercial enterprise invites people onto their property for a a profit (think stores, malls, apartment buildings) and someone with a duty to maintain the area in a safe condition for patrons (like the owner or manager or snow plowing company) fail to do anything about ice (like having the contractor come back to treat the area with melter, or send an employee out to do the same) it's reasonable to hold that owner or that property manager or contractor responsible for an injury incurred. The refreezing of melting snow is certainly foreseeable - and the means to take care of it with ice melter or rock salt on driveways and parking lots is readily at hand and cheap. It just requires someone to actually do it. Saving money on this needed operation is always at the peril of others- and the insurance company. Maybe that's why they don't care enough to do it.
SNOW REMOVAL: If the property owner has a duty to remove snow or ice, as we have seen at commercial premises, the owner or manager must exercise ordinary care to do so. An attempted removal of a natural accumulation that only makes matters worse will support a claim that the owner of the premises is liable for injuries arising from an accident caused by the dangerous condition. Ignoring ice and the foreseeable formation of ice after it starts to melt at the sacrifice of pedestrian safety will also support a claim. Each case must be evaluated on its own merits after an investigation of the facts - the weather conditions, what the owner did in response, how foreseeable was the danger, how easy would it have been to avoid the danger. Sometimes pre-suit investigation of these issues will yield the answers you need, sometimes only the answers an owner must give in litigation will flesh out the factual picture.
My South Jersey Law Office regularly serves the NJ communities of Camden, Pennsauken, Delran, Willingboro, Bellmawr, Runnemede, Deptford, Woodbury, Glassboro, Westville, Gloucester Township (Blackwood, Glendora, Erial, Sicklerville, Blenheim, Lambs Terrace, Chews Landing, and Hilltop) and Washington Township, (Turnersville, Sewell, Hurffville, Grenloch, CrossKeys, Bunker Hill and Chapel Heights).
If you live in these areas, or any other area of South Jersey and have been injured in a snow or ice-related slip & fall accident, then contact my office immediately for a free consultation. I treat every client with extra-special care and go over the evidence and facts of their case, in-depth, so that no stone is unturned in their legal case.