New Jersey Supreme Court Finds Homeowner’s Association Liable for Slip and Fall on Icy Sidewalk

In a recent decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that a homeowner’s association can be held liable for injuries caused by icy sidewalks. The lawsuit, Qian v. Toll Brothers, involved an icy sidewalk in an over-55, age restricted community. The plaintiff in the case alleged that she suffered personal injuries as a result of the homeowner’s association’s negligent maintenance of its sidewalk.

The Facts of the Case

On December 19, 2008, a snowstorm with freezing rain left an inch and a half of ice on the streets and sidewalks at The Villas at Cranbury Brook, located in Plainsboro, New Jersey. The homeowner’s association called a landscaper and requested that that he salt the roads, but the association did ask the landscaper to salt the sidewalks. Two days later, another freezing rain storm caused more ice to accumulate. That afternoon, Ms. Qian and her husband walked from their condo to a grocery store. On the way back, Ms. Qian slipped and fell on ice on a common-area sidewalk within the grounds of the community. Ms. Qian landed on her back and sustained multiple injuries to her wrist and shoulder.

The homeowners at the Villas take title to their individual units, but all other areas (such as the sidewalks and walkways) are common properties owned by the homeowners association or the recreation association. Residents of the Villas are charged monthly maintenance fees, which are supposed to pay for services such as snow and ice removal from the sidewalks.

The Association’s bylaws require its board to maintain the common areas of the community. In her lawsuit, Ms. Qian alleged that no one had salted the sidewalks on the day of the accident.

Legal Liability for Slip and Falls on Sidewalks in New Jersey

In the eyes of the law, not all sidewalks are treated equally. The court noted that New Jersey law imposes a duty on commercial landowners to clear public sidewalks that are adjacent to their properties of snow and ice. New Jersey law does not, however, impose such a duty on residential landowners. In 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in the case of Luchejko v. City of Hoboken that a condo association and management company were immune from liability for failing to clear ice from a public sidewalk. That case involved a pedestrian who slipped on ice on a public sidewalk adjacent to a residential condominium building.

The Court’s Ruling in Qian v. Toll Brothers

The New Jersey Supreme Court began its legal analyst by stating that commercial landowners have a duty under New Jersey law to clear public sidewalks adjacent to their properties of snow and ice for the safe travel of pedestrians. In reversing the trial court’s decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that, "residential public-sidewalk immunity does not apply in the case of a sidewalk privately owned by a common-interest community."

In addition, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an owner of private property has a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect those entering the property from dangerous conditions on the property and that a duty therefore exists to make private walkways on the property safe, and to the extent reasonable, to clear snow and ice that presents a danger to known or expected visitors.

In the Luchejko lawsuit, the condo association did not list the public sidewalk in the master deed as common property and did not obtain insurance to protect itself from liability arising from accidents occurring there. In Qian v. Toll Brothers, however, the condo association owned the private sidewalk and collected fees from residents to maintain it. Moreover, the by-laws of the homeowners association spell out the association’s duty to manage and maintain the community’s common areas, including sidewalks. Because the homeowner’s association had a duty to clear the sidewalk of ice and snow and failed to do so, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Ms. Qian had a valid lawsuit against the association.

As winter approaches, this case serves as a reminder of the dangers of icy sidewalks. If you or a loved one have been injured in a sidewalk accident, our personal injury attorneys may be able to help you obtain compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages you incurred. In New Jersey, there is a time limit in which a slip and fall lawsuit may be filed, so it is important that you contact us as soon as possible after sustaining injuries in an accident.

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