The summer is finally here, so it may seem a strange time to talk about things like snowstorms, but the wheels of justice can sometimes grind slowly. The New Jersey Appeals Court recently ruled in Pareja v Princeton International Properties, et al. that the on-going storm rule no longer applies for commercial properties in New Jersey. Basically, this means that commercial property owners will need to find ways to remove snow, sleet, and ice from their properties as the storm is still leaving these items behind.
It has long been a practice of commercial businesses in New Jersey to wait until a winter storm has ended before clearing snow, ice, and sleet from its sidewalks, driveways, stairs, and walkways. The on-going storm rule prevented commercial businesses from losing lawsuits filed by plaintiffs who slipped and fell on their property during a winter storm. This rule no longer applies.
Pareja v Princeton International Properties, et al.
Angel Pareja sued a commercial property owner in Princeton after slipping and falling on black ice during a winter storm. The trial court originally ruled in favor of the property owner, citing the on-going storm rule. However, when the plaintiff filed an appeal, the appeals court overruled the decision. The appeals court claimed that the New Jersey Supreme Court never issued a clear rule stating that snow and ice do not have to be removed from the property until the conclusion of a storm in any of the cases it heard regarding this topic.
The appeals court wrote the following in its decision:
[A] commercial landowner has a duty to take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting its property—covered by snow or ice—reasonably safe. Such a duty—to remove or reduce a foreseeable hazard—cannot be fulfilled by always waiting to act until after a storm ends, regardless of the risk imposed to invitees and pedestrians. The commercial landowner’s liability may arise only if, after actual or constructive notice, it fails to act in a reasonably prudent manner under the circumstances to remove or reduce the foreseeable hazard. Whether it would be inexpedient or impractical to act is one of many factors for the jury’s consideration.
Juries instructed to look at specific factors
With the appellate court’s ruling, juries are now instructed to look at specific factors when hearing a case related to storm injuries. Some of these factors include:
- The amount of ice or snow accumulating on the property
- If the precipitation is occurring during the day or at night
- The number of people expected to use the sidewalk, premises, or another area that might need attention
- The previous, current, and future expectations of precipitation and the practical measures to ensure egress and ingress
- The low amount of usage of a facility that is closed due to the storm compared to what would be a normal workday or workweek
Until the defendant in the case appeals the latest decision to the New Jersey Supreme Court, if an appeal even happens, this is now the law in New Jersey, and commercial properties must follow it.
Were you injured on a commercial property due to accumulation from a storm? If so, these property owners can now face liability claims. Contact the New Jersey premises liability lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP at 732-777-0100, or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation. We have offices in Edison, Toms River, and Red Bank to better serve you.