Residential v. Commercial Sidewalks
Under New Jersey law there is a clear distinction between the duties and obligations of an adjacent property owner in regard to a public sidewalk depending on whether the adjacent property is a commercial or residential property. A residential homeowner has no obligation to maintain, repair or keep the sidewalk in front of his house free and clean of ice and snow. If the sidewalk falls into disrepair, becomes icy and someone falls and is injured, the homeowner cannot be sued. To the contrary, a business and commercial property owner has a legal obligation to maintain the adjacent sidewalk to the business in good repair and free of hazards such as ice and snow. Their failure to take reasonable steps to correct the hazard may subject them to a lawsuit for damages from an injured individual.
In some instances, municipalities may have local ordinances which require homeowners to keep the sidewalk free and clear of ice and snow as well as to keep the sidewalk in a state of good repair. Although the failure to abide by the local ordinance may cause the municipality to issue a Summons and impose a fine for the homeowner’s failure to comply with the ordinance, the ordinance does not impose a duty on the homeowner in regard to civil liability under New Jersey law. In other words, if the residential homeowner fails to abide by the ordinance and someone slips and falls on an icy sidewalk, the injured party may not sue the homeowner for his failure to comply with the ordinance. However, it is important to note that if a homeowner undertakes an effort to repair a sidewalk and the repair is done improperly leading to a fall down incident and injury, then under those circumstances, the homeowner may be liable in a suit for personal injuries. This may sound odd but the New Jersey Courts have indicated that there is no duty of the residential property owner to maintain the adjacent sidewalk and, therefore, there is no civil liability against the homeowner for injuries resulting from a hazardous condition. However, if that adjacent residential property owner does a negligent repair, then liability may attach if the negligent repair is what caused the incident resulting in personal injuries.
Sidewalk liability, like many areas of personal injury law, can be very complicated and requires the interpretation and skill of an experienced personal injury lawyer. If you find that you have suffered an injury on a sidewalk adjacent to a commercial business, I would suggest that you contact my office as soon as is reasonably possible after the accident so that your potential case may be evaluated. Oftentimes, sidewalk liability involves a public entity and, therefore, is subject to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, Title 59:1-1 et seq. As discussed in my New Jersey Tort Claims Blog, the time period in order to preserve your rights against a municipality or governmental agency is significantly limited. I would recommend that along with this blog that you read my other blog pertaining to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act which provides the time parameters for making such a claim against the government.