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Neighbor Found Not Liable for Plaintiff’s Fall on Sidewalk Due to Snow and Ice

By on June 3, 2016 in Liability, Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Pietra Ilg sued her neighbors Tom and Patricia Meade for injuries she suffered when she fell on the sidewalk in front of their home. She slipped and fell on ice as she walked next door to defendants’ home. She was walking to their home to assist the parties’ children with a science project. In Ilg v. Meade, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1224 (App. Div. May 27, 2016) plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her claim after the trial court found that the defendants breached no legal duty owed to plaintiff.

Plaintiff had walked to defendants’ home earlier in the day to help the children with the project. One of the defendants’ cars, parked in the driveway, partially blocked the sidewalk. During her first visit to the defendants’ home, she walked into the street to avoid the car. When she returned home, she took the same route.

Later that night, plaintiff again walked to defendants’ home to correct a typo she found in the assignment. This time, instead of walking in the street, she walked around the car, partially on the sidewalk and slipped and fell on snow and ice. As a result, she broke her wrist.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint. The trial court found that the plaintiff was a social guest, the position of the car was obvious, and the defendants had no duty to warn her. There was also an issue as to exactly where plaintiff fell, i.e., whether it was on defendants’ property.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the defendants were negligent in knowingly blocking a public sidewalk with their vehicle which forced her to walk on an icy area, causing her to slip and fall. Further, plaintiff argued that defendants owed her a duty to warn her of this dangerous condition. The Appellate Division rejected both of these arguments.

The Court found that the plaintiff offered “scant” legal authority applicable to residential homeowners and social guests. The Appellate Division pointed out that the law is well settled that a residential property owner “is generally immune from liability for accidents resulting from naturally-caused conditions of public sidewalks abutting the property.”

While the law has evolved for commercial property owners, imposing a duty upon them to remove snow and ice from public sidewalks, that duty has not been extended to residential owners. Thus, to the extent the plaintiff’s injuries may have occurred due to falling on the defendants’ sidewalk, defendants, as residential landowners, would not be liable.

Plaintiff also argued that the defendants should be liable because their car blocked the sidewalk, violating the local ordinance, and this action constituted further evidence of their negligence. However, the defendants were not charged with violating any such ordinance. Further, the Court noted that breach of an ordinance directing private persons to care for public property does not provide a private cause of action to an individual citizen injured due to such breach.

Further, the Appellate Division pointed out that the duty of care that a landowner owes a third person is governed by their status – “guest, invitee, or trespasser.” The duty owed to a social guest is to warn of a dangerous condition on the premises except “when the guest is aware of the condition or by reasonable use of the facilities would observe it.”

Here, the plaintiff was a social guest. It was undisputed that when she visited the defendants’ home earlier in the day, she observed the location of their car that was at least partially blocking the sidewalk. The car was in the same position when she returned. Under these circumstances, the danger the plaintiff encountered was self-evident and, thus, she had no claim against the defendants. Hence, the Appellate Division held that, even if the plaintiff could prove that she fell on the defendants’ property, the trial judge properly concluded that the complaint should be dismissed.

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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.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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