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By: Ashley Hobson
New Jersey Courts have long recognized an “ongoing snow-storm” rule. The rule relieves commercial landowners from liability when an injury occurs on their property while there is an active weather event such as snow or sleet. The premise of the law was based on the contention that trying to clean walkways in the midst of a snowstorm was “inexpedient and impractical.” However, in an April 9, 2020 decision, the Appellate Division abandoned the longtime precedent and instead enforced a “reasonableness” standard. The Court held that utilizing the ongoing snowstorm rule as “such a bright-line rule…ignores situations when it is reasonable for a commercial landowner to remove or reduce foreseeable and known snow or ice hazards.” The Appellate Division contends that litigants have long misunderstood the Court’s reasoning behind the standard. Thus, it was time to develop a new and clear standard. The new standard establishes a “duty to take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting [commercial property] covered by snow or ice-reasonably safe.” Although Defendants have won Motions for Summary Judgment using this standard, it will now be left for jurors to determine whether a landowner behaved reasonably by cleaning or not cleaning during active inclement weather.
In Pareja v. Princeton Int’l Props., __A.3d __ (App. Div. April 9, 2020), the Appellate Division held, “a commercial landowner has a duty to take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting its property…reasonably safe, even when precipitation is falling. The liability only occurs if after actual or constructive notice [the landowner] fails to act in a reasonably prudent manner to remove or reduce the foreseeable hazard.” The Court clarified that this holding does not require commercial landowners to completely rid their property of snow and ice in the midst of a blizzard. Rather, traditional tort principles and public policy concerns require commercial landowners to behave reasonably when they are inviting persons to visit their property. Reasonable factors can include: the severity of the precipitation, past and present weather condition, and the efforts used to treat the property.
The defendants appealed the Appellate Division’s ruling and on September 9th, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted the petition for certification. It remains to be seen if the Court will uphold the Appellate Division’s ruling or if it will determine the new “reasonableness standard” is not reasonable at all. As the snowy season approaches, commercial landowners should be vigilant and ensure that proper steps are taken to treat walkways, even as the snow falls. As these are very real issues to navigate, please contact one of our team members to discuss the next steps in more detail.