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Who Is Liable for Slip and Fall Injuries on Icy Public Sidewalks?

Who Is Liable for Slip and Fall Injuries on Icy Public Sidewalks?

The first snowstorm of Fall 2018 was a stark reminder of how the white stuff can bring our lives here in New Jersey to a screeching halt or worse. If your life was suddenly changed due to a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk, you might be wondering what your rights are vis-à-vis a negligent property owner or
municipality. Local ordinances generally impose a duty to remove snow and ice within a reasonable
time, and failure to do so can expose the owner to fines. However, failure to remove snow and ice does
not confer liability. Whether you can hold a property owner accountable for your injuries depends
largely on whether the property is residential or commercial.

If the public sidewalk is outside a private home, the owner is generally not responsible if a naturally occurring hazard, such as accumulated snow and ice, causes a passerby to slip and fall. The basic rule is that a homeowner can only be liable if he or she did something to create the hazard. Since the homeowner did not cause the snow to fall or puddles to freeze over, he or she is not responsible for
your slip and fall. Of course, the path from the sidewalk to their door is a different matter. If the
homeowner is negligent clearing the walk and you in your capacity as a delivery person take a spill, the
homeowner could be liable if:

  • The snow/ice removal was negligent
  • The hazard was not obvious
  • The delivery person had no choice but to encounter the hazard

On the other hand, the law holds a commercial property owner or lessee to a higher standard. A
business owner must make the sidewalk outside his/her place of business reasonably safe for customers
and anyone else who might happen by. It is their responsibility to clear the snow, break up any
accumulations of ice, and salt the surface to prevent a foreseeable slip. If the business proprietor is
renting, the terms of the lease could require the lessee to perform snow and ice removal, or the lessor
may have agreed to subcontract removal to a third party. That third-party contractor might be liable for
a slip and fall due to negligent snow/ice removal.

Be aware also that after a surface has been shoveled, runoff can create a slick surface, especially
when the runoff freezes. If you slip and fall under those circumstances, the property owner may be held
liable for failing to discover and remediate a hazardous condition that could foreseeably cause a slip
and fall.

It’s worth noting that the New Jersey Tort Claims Act grants government entities significant immunity
from liability even for negligent snow and ice removal. This means New Jersey residents tread icy
sidewalks in residential neighborhoods largely at their own risk, and commercial property owners
cannot shift responsibility onto the local authority in most cases.

Brach Eichler handles premises liability claims throughout the Garden State. If you have questions about your rights in any such case, call us at 973-364-8300 or contact our office online.

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