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Landlord Found Not Liable to Injured Tenant Who Fell on Ice During Storm

By on May 24, 2019 in Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff, Samir Abdalla, alleged that he slipped and fell on an icy walkway in his apartment complex and suffered a fractured radius in his left arm. He sued his landlord Threegees t/a Monaco Arms, Inc., claiming that the defendant was negligent in failing to clear ice on the sidewalk in the apartment complex. The issue in Abdalla v. Threegees t/a Monaco Arms, Inc., 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1071 (App. Div. May 10, 2019), was whether the freezing rain which had turned to rain during this winter storm constituted a continuation of the storm such that the defendant still had a reasonable period of time to remove the ice from the sidewalk.

According to the defendant’s weather expert report, freezing rain began to fall around 7 a.m. The temperatures were in the mid-20s, well below freezing, when the freezing rain began to develop. It was undisputed that the ice rain stopped falling prior to the plaintiff’s fall according to the defendant’s expert report and the temperatures began to rise above freezing starting around 11 a.m., two hours prior to plaintiff’s fall. In plaintiff’s deposition testimony, he testified that it was cold and raining lightly at the time he fell. Plaintiff argued that considering the transition from freezing rain to plain rain occurred around 11 a.m., that the defendant was negligent by failing to treat the icy sidewalk three hours after the freezing rain stopped.

The motion judge recognize the well-settled rule of law that a commercial property owner does have a duty to keep its premises safe, including public sidewalks. However, the judge found that the defendant did not have the responsibility to go out while it was still raining to deice the condition that developed the hour earlier or two hours earlier. The owner had to be given some form of reasonable time period after the cessation of the storm itself.

The Appellate Division agreed with the motion judge that the maintenance of a public sidewalk by a commercial property owner may require removal of snow or ice or reduction of the risk, depending upon the circumstances. However, the commercial property owner would have a reasonable period of time thereafter to make the public sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition.

The Appellate Division relied on an almost 100-year-old case, Bodine v. Goerke Company, that the reasonable period of time did not commence until the precipitation ceased. The Court found that the fact that the freezing rain had turned to rain during the storm did not preclude the grant of summary judgment. It was undisputed that it was still raining when plaintiff fell. Thus, continuation of the storm did not provide the defendant with a reasonable period of time to remove ice from the sidewalk. That reasonable period of time commenced at the conclusion of the precipitation.            

This case will be very helpful for business owners and commercial land owners because it specifically deals with a freezing rain event, as opposed to just a snow event. Again, in a flurry of decisions which have been coming down from the Appellate Division, they all seem to side with the landowner that there is a reasonable period of time after the conclusion of the storm event to clear a sidewalk or walkway from that precipitation.

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Betsy G. Ramos

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.

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