Courtroom Cue: New Jersey Appellate Court rejects categorical application of the “ongoing-storm” rule

By: Cristina N. Hyde, JD

This past April, the New Jersey Appellate Division determined that a commercial landowner has a duty to take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting its property, covered by ice or snow, reasonably safe.  Completely rejecting the previously applied “on-going storm” defense to liability, the court made it clear that it is no longer appropriate to wait until the end of a storm to take safety precautions in order to avoid slip and fall injuries.  Therefore, for all future slip-and-fall cases where a landowner’s efforts to abate snow and ice during an ongoing storm are called into question, “reasonableness is the polestar.”  Pareja v. Princeton International Properties (App. Div. April 9, 2020).

While this holding does not create a situation of absolute liability for the commercial property owner, it does place matters firmly within the fact-finding purview of a jury.  A property owner will be found liable should a jury determine that they failed to act in a reasonably prudent manner under the circumstances to address foreseeable and known hazards created by ice and snow.  In addition, the court presented several factors that a jury should consider when assessing whether a commercial property owner’s action or inaction was reasonable including, but not limited to, the extent and timing of the snowfall, time of day, and efforts actually taken by the owner to maintain the premises.

With the Pareja case in mind, landowners should begin making their snow and ice removal plans early, and plan to keep meticulous records.

If you have any questions regarding the above, or would like help reviewing your ice and snow removal plans and record keeping practices, please Contact Us.

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