Is a Commercial Landowner Required to Remove Snow and Ice During a Storm?
Jun 14, 2021 | Written by: Share|
The NJ Supreme Court has ruled that a commercial landowner is not required to shovel or remove snow and ice from walkways and parking lots during a storm while snow, sleet, or freezing rain is falling. However, the landowner is required to take corrective action if the hazardous condition was created by the commercial landowner or was a condition that existed before the storm. Angel Alberto Pareja v. Princeton International Properties (A-4-20) (084394) Argued February 1, 2021 -- Decided June 10, 2021.
The Pareja case involved a pedestrian slip and fall on a sidewalk abutting a commercial establishment during mixed precipitation of light rain, freezing rain, and sleet. The pedestrian Pareja sustained a fractured hip from the fall on ice. The storm that created the hazardous condition commenced overnight and into the morning hours during the time of Pareja’s fall. Pareja claimed the slippery and hazardous condition could have been lessened had the commercial landowner pre-treated the sidewalk.
Under New Jersey law, commercial landowners, “are responsible for maintaining in reasonably good condition the sidewalks abutting their property and are liable to pedestrians injured as a result of their negligent failure to do so.” Stewart v. 104 Wallace St., Inc., 87 N.J. 146, 157 (1981). This obligation includes the “removal or reduction of the hazard of snow and ice.” Mirza v. Filmore Corp., 92 N.J. 390, 400 (1983). The exact duty to remove or reduce the hazards of snow or ice were not especially defined. Many states adopt a standard known as the “ongoing storm rule,” which eliminates the obligation to remove or reduce snow and ice hazards during the storm creating the condition. In Pareja, the NJ Supreme Court adopted the ongoing storm rule with two exceptions that provide a basis for liability if the commercial landowner created the hazardous condition or if the condition existed before the ongoing storm.
The dissent objected to applying the rule to all storms since a commercial landowner has an obligation to maintain safe walkways and not all storms are the same. The dissent did not want to encourage commercial landowners to do nothing when some corrective action is otherwise reasonable and appropriate. The dissent suggested a commercial property owner reasonably owes some obligation to the public to clear or reduce icy conditions during minor storms; and could avoid liability simply by salting the walkways. The dissent’s position does not recognize the craftiness of litigators in raising issues regarding the sufficiency of salting or other removal actions, or the differences in storms or changes in a single storm over time. Under the circumstances the majority believed not adopting the ongoing storm rule would simply raise more litigation issues and uncertainty such as whether the storm was minor, whether the condition reasonably could have been avoided, or whether the commercial landowner’s efforts to remove or reduce the hazard were reasonable. The majority left open legal challenges to when the storm ended and whether the hazardous condition was from the ongoing storm or a prior storm.
Under the circumstances, assuming the commercial landowner is diligent in responding to hazardous conditions to its walkways caused from ice and snow, the commercial landowner need not take corrective action during freezing rain, sleet, or snow; but must within a reasonable time after such storm ceases take action to prevent or reduce the hazards of those conditions. A commercial landowner who relies upon a contracted snow or ice removal services should review the terms of such contracts regarding when the service is obligated to salt, sand or plow, recognizing the ongoing storm rule does not completely exonerate the commercial landowner during the ongoing storms and may require a more prompt response after the storm ceases.