In previous winters, you had a legitimate cause of action against a commercial property owner any time you slipped, tripped or fell on snow or ice that had accumulated on the property’s sidewalks, steps, parking lots, etc. As of this year, however, all that has changed.
The National Law Review reports that in a 5–2 decision this past summer, the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the ongoing storm rule. This rule holds that New Jersey commercial property owners have no duty to remove snow and ice during a storm. Instead, they can wait to clear their property until the storm concludes.
The decision arose in the case of Alberto Pareja v. Princeton International Properties. The plaintiff fell on the defendant’s sidewalk one early morning after a night of snow, rain and below-freezing temperatures. The trial court held for the defendant, but the Appellate Division reversed, holding that the defendant had a duty of reasonable care in maintaining its sidewalks, even while precipitation fell.
The New Jersey Supreme Court overruled the Appellate Division, officially establishing the ongoing storm doctrine as the rule in this state.
Per the Court’s ruling, however, two exceptions to this doctrine exist. The first pertains to a situation where the property owner’s conduct increases the risk to pedestrians and property invitees. The second pertains to a situation where the ice or snow on which someone falls pre-existed, i.e., fell during a previous storm.
Despite New Jersey’s new ongoing storm doctrine, you can still sue a commercial property owner if snow or ice on the property causes you to slip, trip or fall and sustain injuries. The jury must decide all questions of fact, including the weather conditions at the time of and preceding your accident. If it concludes that an ongoing storm was in progress, then it must decide whether one of the new rule’s exceptions applies.