Snow, ice, and sleet can make everyday activities much more hazardous in the winter months. Inclement weather can turn streets, sidewalks, and parking lots into danger zones. Slipping on ice, tripping on piles of snow, or falling victim to snow-covered obstacles can cause personal injuries and significant havoc in your day-to-day life.
Each year, slip and fall occurrences account for 800,000 hospitalizations in the United States. One in five falls causes a serious injury like a broken bone or a head injury. Significant injuries like these can impair mobility, limit everyday activities, and reduce independence.
Who Is Responsible for Slip-and-Fall Accidents?
In many cases, slip-and-fall accidents are the result of a property owner, landlord, or homeowner not taking appropriate measures to ensure that their property is as safe as possible for the weather conditions. Laws exist to hold property owners accountable for injuries caused by unsafe conditions on their property that exist because of negligent property maintenance, which may include failing to remove snow or ice. New Jersey premises liability law requires that homeowners and other owners of non-commercial private property have a duty to maintain that property in a reasonably safe manner for all people who have the right to be there.
What Is a Reasonably Safe Manner?
Private Property Owners
The duty to ensure that property is reasonably safe under the law means that owners of private property have a duty to take reasonable measures and exercise reasonable care to maintain their property. This includes fixing hazards insofar as is practically possible and providing adequate warning where it’s not possible to completely eliminate a dangerous condition.
In inclement weather, reasonable maintenance can include shoveling snow, applying salt or chemical deicers, and/or using non-slip devices like mats or other non-skid materials. The law does not require that a private property owner take extraordinary measures to prevent any and all hazardous conditions, but they can be liable for slip-and-fall injuries and damages if they fail to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety their property. While New Jersey law does not require private property owners shovel or de-ice the sidewalks adjacent to their property, many local laws do require this. Many cities or townships will ticket and fine owners who do not comply with these snow removal regulations.
Commercial Property Owners
Owners and renters of commercial property have an additional legal responsibility to regularly and thoroughly inspect the areas that are accessible to the public on and around their premises for potential hazards and take reasonable steps to mitigate them and appropriately warn the public of their existence. A commercial property owner or tenant’s responsibility extends to the areas surrounding buildings, such as walkways and parking lots, where guests or patrons would be expected to be while going to or leaving the business. These duties are above and beyond the duty of a private property owner to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the property in a safe condition.
In general, New Jersey municipalities and townships do not have liability for slip and fall injuries that occur on public grounds like sidewalks, playgrounds, and transit stops.
Who May Have a Claim Against a Property Owner?
A property owner owes a duty of care not only to guests who they invite onto the property but also to people who may come onto the property for a lawful purpose (e.g., city employees reading the water meter, mail and delivery persons, door-to-door salespersons). An owner’s liability extends as far as the visitor’s lawful purpose, generally excluding trespassers and persons who exceed their permissible purpose on the property (such as a delivery person who decides to take an unauthorized dip in a homeowner’s swimming pool).
If you’ve been injured on private property, you may be able to recover for your injuries if you are able to show the owner was negligent in keeping the premises safe. If you’ve been injured on commercial property, you may have grounds for a claim against the business owner, property owner, or both in a premises liability lawsuit.
An attorney who is experienced in slip and fall and premises liability cases can help you pursue a claim and recover damages for your injuries and loss. Contact the Mark Law Firm today to schedule a no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.