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Condominium Association Not Liable for Injury on Sidewalk Adjacent to Its Buildings

By on December 15, 2017 in Liability with 1 Comment

Plaintiff Tina Waldeier was injured when thrown from her bicycle due to a defect in the sidewalk adjacent to the defendant Piper I Townhouse Condominium buildings. The Condominium Association argued that the condominiums were predominantly residential and, hence, it was not liable for the defects in the public sidewalk. In, Waldeier v. Piper 1 Townhouse Condo. Ass’n, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2914 (App. Div. Nov. 22, 2017), the Appellate Division was asked to determine whether the Association could be liable for the plaintiff’s injury.

The Association consisted of 13 condominium unit owners in the complex. Plaintiff was injured due to a defect in the sidewalk at the southeast corner of 13th Street and Haven Avenue in Ocean City. The Piper I Condominium buildings were adjacent to the sidewalks where the plaintiff’s accident occurred.

New Jersey law is clear that residential landowners whose properties abut a public sidewalk have no liability for an injury caused by a defect in the sidewalk. The defendant Association argued that its condominiums were primarily residential and, hence, it could not be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. The trial court accepted that argument and granted summary judgment to the Association, dismissing the Complaint.

Upon appeal, the plaintiff argued that the sidewalk where plaintiff fell was a common element of the Condominium complex, the Association is liable to maintain those common elements, and, hence, could be liable for plaintiff’s fall. Further, the Plaintiff disagreed with the trial court’s finding that the condominiums were predominantly residential. If the condominiums were deemed commercial, the Association could be liable as an adjoining property owner to maintain the sidewalk, if it was determined to be a public sidewalk.

The Appellate Division held that the trial court correctly determined that the condominium complex was predominantly residential. In addition to the owner occupied units, other units were occupied during part of the year. Although some of the units may have been used for purposes of vacation and 2 of the units were held for rentals, that did not change the residential character of the units. Moreover, the Master Deed restricted the units to residential use.

As for whether the sidewalk was a common element of the condominiums or a public sidewalk, the Appellate Division found that, indisputably, the sidewalks along 13th Street and Haven Avenue extend well beyond the Condominium property. The Association had no ability to exclude members of the public from these sidewalks. Further, the sidewalks abutting the Association’s property were subject to the control of the municipality. The municipality exercised that control when it cited the unit owners for the defects in the sidewalks.

Although the municipality had an ordinance that required the abutting property owner to maintain the public sidewalk, it is well settled under the law that the adoption of such an ordinance does not impose tort liability on the abutting landowners for defects in the sidewalk. Because the condominiums were predominantly residential in use, and the abutting sidewalks were public sidewalks, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss the Complaint.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 25 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020 and 2021, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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There is 1 Brilliant Comment

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  1. Lee Paladin says:

    Interesting case. Since the injured party didn’t live in the condominium and was riding on a public sidewalk it’s a bit of a puzzle why she filed.
    Thanks for the article!

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