What Happens when I Slip and Fall because a Tree affected the Sidewalk?
Dector v. Minoj and Township of Livingston
Submitted by New Jersey Slip and Fall Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
Irma Dector (plaintiff) was walking on the sidewalk in front of 16 Post Lane. The address belonged to Mr. Hejib (defendant). Plaintiff’s foot got caught on the raised portion of the sidewalk. This trip caused plaintiff to facture her left wrist. The cause for the elevated sidewalk happened because of the roots of a nearby tree. Defendant purchased the property in July 2010 and moved in August. Defendant stated the property has been like that prior to the purchase and no complaints were ever made aware to him. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the bases that they were not responsible for the accident. The elevated sidewalk was not a result by the defendant’s actions but just by natural causes. Plaintiff countered with a) “there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether defendants acted affirmatively by failing to take corrective action to abate the sidewalk’s dangerous condition” b) “sidewalk liability should be extended to defendant pursuant to the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm.” The judge granted summary judgment to defendants after hearing the motion.
Plaintiff appealed after the judge’s decision to grant the summary judgment and dismissal of her case. The court found the plaintiff failed to prove that unreasonable acts or omissions by defendant proximately caused his or her injuries. In this case, defendant did nothing to alter the sidewalk in any way nor planted the tree which elevated sidewalk. This court applied a 1981 decision establishing liability only on commercial enterprises for injuries resulting from on sidewalks adjacent to their property. This court applied the reasoning that residential owners can only be liable if the owner creates the defect that does or eventually effects the sidewalk. The defendants are protected by the common-law public sidewalk immunity. The court did bring up the issue in a case where a home owner did plant a tree that affected the sidewalk and the home owners were found guilty. However, this case in unlike that one since no trees were planted while the defendant owned the house. The Restatement (Second) of Torts states, “natural condition of the land” “to indicate that the condition of land has not been changed by any act of a human being, whether the possessor or any of his predecessors in possession, or a third person dealing with the land either with or without the consent of the then possessor.” The plaintiff did not prove that the tree was planted while the defendants lived in the house. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the Summary Judgment dismissal.