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Supermarket in Multi-tenant Shopping Center Found Not Liable to Shopper Who Falls on Ice in the Parking Lot

By on September 16, 2016 in Liability with 0 Comments

Plaintiff, Grazio Spano, went shopping in the Acme store in the shopping center located on the Black Horse Pike, Mays Landing, N.J. Acme was the anchor store in this multi-tenant shopping center. After finishing her shopping, the plaintiff went back to her car and slipped on black ice in the parking lot. In Spano v. Supervalu, Inc., d/b/a Acme Markets, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1711 (July 13, 2016), the issue was whether Acme could be liable to the plaintiff for the injuries she suffered in the fall.

The owner of the shopping center, Paramount Realty Services, Inc., had a contractual obligation to maintain the shopping center, pursuant to a common area maintenance agreement, which governed its landlord-tenant relationship with Acme. Paramount hired Eric’s Snow Removal to provide for snow and ice removal at the shopping center. Eric’s hired Fresh Cut Lawn Service to perform this snow and ice removal.

About 2 weeks before the accident, 21 inches of snow fell. Fresh Cut plowed the lot and piled the snow into large piles on the grass islands in the parking lot. It came back on two subsequent occasions and salted the lot. Plaintiff parked her vehicle near one of the grass islands where Fresh Cut piled the snow.

Acme filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. After settling her claims with the other defendants, the plaintiff appealed this order granting summary judgment as to Acme.

The Appellate Division found that this case was squarely controlled by Kandrac v. Marrazzo’s Mkt. at Robbinsville, 429 N.J. Super. 79 (App. Div. 2012). In Kandrac, the court ruled that a commercial tenant in a multi-tenant shopping center did not owe a duty to the plaintiff who fell in the shopping center in which the owner retained the responsibility to maintain the common areas.

Here, the plaintiff tried to distinguish Kandrac by arguing that it did not apply because Acme allegedly assumed a duty of care of informing the landlord or the snow removal contractor of dangerous or icy conditions so these areas could be addressed. Plaintiff claimed that Acme breached its protocol by failing to notify the owner or the snow removal contractor of the icy condition of the lot before Plaintiff fell. Plaintiff also claimed that it was Acme’s policy to apply rock salt to the parking lot.

The Appellate Division rejected these arguments. It found that Acme did not have a contractual duty to maintain the parking lot. If Acme’s employees did inform the owner or the contractor of icy conditions in the lot, it did so to permit the owner or contractor to carry out their contractual responsibilities. Further, the court noted that the record did not support plaintiff’s assertion that Acme had a policy of applying rock salt on icy patches in the parking lot. Rock salt was applied to the lot in response to this incident. The court found that the one time application of rock salt to the icy area of the incident did not justify the imposition of a general duty to keep the lot reasonably free of ice and snow. Accordingly, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision, dismissing the complaint as to Acme.

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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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