Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
The New Jersey appellate division addressed this issue in this case decided on December 5, 2016.
New Jersey has long-standing residential homeowner sidewalk immunity case law. Residential land owners/homeowners are not liable for the failure to maintain their sidewalks in front of their home from natural conditions that arise on their property. The sole exception is if they negligently build or repair the sidewalk in a matter that creates an artificial dangerous condition. As a result, if a tree root raises a sidewalk that has been located on the resident property for an extended period of time the land owner is exempt from liability due to the natural condition of the land. This statement of wall dates back to the Restatement of Torts second written in 1965.
Although the American Law Institute has changed this theory of residential land owner of liability in 2005 the New Jersey Supreme Court has not adopted this recent revision to the Restatement of Torts. As a result the decision of Deberjeois v. Schneider governs the facts and circumstances of this case. In Deberjeois the court held that a residential homeowner may only be liable for the injuries of a pedestrian her trips on a raised slab of sidewalk in front of their home when the hazardous condition was created by the homeowner after a negligent repair or installation. Because the tree in Deberjeois, which had grown roots in turn pushing up the sidewalk, was considered a natural condition as opposed to an artificially created one, the landowner could not be found liable for such a natural condition.
This court extended that “natural condition” to the seed pods and other items that fall from the tree. As a result the pedestrian who walked past and slipped and fell on those seedpods was not able to recover from this natural condition.
The court also recognize that the landowner had arranged for a lawn service to Maine the property including the removal of the seedpods. This satisfied the landowners responsibility to act in a reasonably prudent manner as well.
Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.