Can you sue for personal injuries when you slip on snow that has not been shoveled from a commercial neighbor’s property?

Have you slipped on the snow and or ice walking into work?

Have you slipped sow and ice on a commercial property?

Did you slip on the snow at your friends house?   Can you sue?

Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

On January 19 in New Jersey Appellate Division decided in the case of Quiles v. Hector  A-0023-16T1 what constitutes reasonableness for removal of snow depends on several factors, however, the most important one is that a commercial land owner is not necessarily required to remove snow while it’s snowing.

In this case plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on defendant’s commercial property while delivering pizza. The court identify the plaintiff as a business invitee wh was allowed to come to the property. The question is whether the landowner acted in a reasonable manner while it was snowing and once it stopped. The land owner had a policy to remove snow once it stopped snowing. In this case plaintive fell at 8 PM. Defendant introduced a NOAA weather report reflecting that it did not stop snowing until early the next morning.

The defendant also introduced municipal ordinance which reflected that land owners have 12 hours to remove snow once it “stopped snowing”. In this case the testimony was clear that plaintiff slipped and fell on the snow while it was still snowing pursuant to the (NOAA) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official precipitation report.   The question becomes what constitutes reasonable conduct in a snow storm for the commercial land owner with regards to its lawful/ commercial  duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition for business invitees and others who come on the property.

The trial court looked to the municipal ordinance, the weather report, and the landowners common practice. As a matter of law plaintiff must prove that the property owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition. The trial judge in this case ruled “the defendant could not have such notice because it was still snowing when plaintiff fell.”  The trial judge found that the landowner has a “reasonable time after the storm“ within which to remove the actual or constructively noticed dangerous condition and perform reasonable care.

The Appellate Division ruled that this defendant cannot be held liable for failing to remove the accumulating snow and ice until a reasonable time after the storm ends. The court explained the test is whether a reasonably prudent person would have caused the public sidewalk to be reasonably safe within a reasonable period of time after the landowner knew or should have known of the condition. Although the municipal ordinance allowing 12 hours of daylight after the snow stops falling as a yardstick, it is not to be considered hard and fast time. The language used was “a reasonable time in which to act but same does not begin until after the storm ends.” The  municipal statute Is evidence of reasonableness but does not in fact create legal duty recognized as a bright line in the eyes of the trial and appellate court. The other key question the trial court and the appellate court focused on was when the plaintiff fell, during the snowstorm or after the snowstorm stopped. There was no doubt in the court’s mind that the plaintiff fell during the snow storm, not after it stopped. This appellate panel found the reasonableness time clock to act does not starts during the snowstorm but rather once the snowstorm ends.  Because plaintiff fell during the snowstorm, there is no question the fact that a duty had not yet existed for the land owner to act and as a result the case was properly dismissed.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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