Submitted by New Jersey Slip and Fall Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
31-2-3413 Buehler v. Twp. of Montclair, N.J. Super. App. Div. (per curiam) (7 pp.)
For all of those who enjoy exercising on your neighborhood sidewalk, this case is for you. We’ve all seen uneven sidewalk before, but if you trip on it, can you hold the owner of the property responsible? What if it’s the Township’ duty to repair the sidewalk?
In a recent case, the plaintiff was “power walking” in her neighborhood when she tripped and fell on a concrete sidewalk slab that was raised approximately two and a half inches higher than an adjoining slab. She sued the owner of the resident adjacent to the sidewalk and the Township. The owners and Township were able to dismiss the case at summary judgment, but the plaintiff appealed the decision as to the Township’s liability.
In order to successfully hold the Township responsible, the plaintiff had to meet the requirements of the Tort Claims Act. The Act requires a plaintiff to show a property was in a dangerous condition that proximately caused a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury, that the public entity had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and sufficient time to take protective measures, and the public entity’s inaction was palpably unreasonable.
In plain language, the Act simply states that in order to successfully bring a personal injury claim against a public entity like the Township, there must have been a dangerous condition that caused an injury that the entity knew existed. The Township had to have enough time to fix the issue, and the time the Township took in not fixing the issue had to be unjustified.
In this case, the plaintiff did not meet the requirements of the Act because the evidence failed to show the sidewalk was a “dangerous condition” or that the Township’s inaction was “palpably unreasonable.” However, in the Trial Court’s opinion, one of the reasons for dismissing the claim was because the Township did not have notice even though the Township never argued that it did not have notice. Therefore, the case was remanded because the Trial Judge ruled on a basis that was not even argued.
In summary, whoever is in control of maintaining a sidewalk is generally the party a personal injury claim will be brought against. The Tort Claims Act makes it slightly more difficult to bring a claim than a private party, but it is not impossible. If you or someone you know has been injured in a similar manner reach out to an experienced attorney for a consultation.