New Jersey Supreme Court Follows Through with “Ongoing Storm Rule”

We all know how much the variable climate affects every aspect of our lives in New Jersey.

New Jersey Ongoing Storm RuleThe snow and ice storms in the state create a plethora of precarious conditions for the roadways, sidewalks, and residential and commercial properties, but New Jersey residents have learned to navigate those conditions with caution to remain safe. One area of navigation that continues to be an issue regards public walkways and sidewalks in front of and within commercial properties. A recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision, Pareja v. Princeton International Properties & Lowe’s Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance, LLC, overturned the Appellate Division’s ruling that commercial and private properties are required to remove precarious walking conditions in the ongoing presence of precipitation, adopting the “Ongoing Storm Rule.”

What is the “ongoing storm rule”?

The “ongoing storm rule,” according to text from New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Fernandez-Vina’s majority opinion, is the precedent by which the owner of property does not have the legal obligation to remove snow or ice from public walkways until a reasonable amount of time subsequent to the precipitation ending. Given the amount of rain, ice, and snow that falls in New Jersey, the creation of precarious walking conditions is a practically inevitable aspect of winter and transitional months. The protection of property owners under the “ongoing storm rule” is quite vast, because the rule implies that it is impractical to remove snow or ice from sidewalks until the precipitation has ceased to fall. This argument of what is practical and therefore a safety responsibility, and what is impractical, has colored the New Jersey courts for decades. The majority noted in its opinion that liability lawsuits against property owners regarding slip and fall cases due to inclement weather have been on the record in New Jersey since 1926.

The Court noted multiple other states in the Northeast that adhere by the tenets of the “Ongoing Storm Rule” to protect commercial property owners from lawsuits that occur as the result of a slip and fall during inclement weather conditions. Yet, while the NJ Supreme Court’s decision was that the “ongoing storm rule” is justifiable and can serve as umbrella protection for property owners in inclement New Jersey weather, the ruling did leave the door open for future liability lawsuits to continue.

The Grey Area

While the majority of NJ Supreme Court Justices ruled in favor of endorsing the “Ongoing Storm Rule” (the Court ruled in favor of the defendant 5-2), left quite a bit of grey area. In overturning the Appellate Division’s majority opinion that it is the property owner’s legal duty to act in a reasonably swift manner to remove precarious conditions. The Supreme Court noted that such an imposition on property owners does not take into condition their reasonable capacity to remove such dangerous obstacles, especially if they are small businesses.

The ruling upholding the “Ongoing Storm Rule” noted its trust of juries to determine whether the property manager acted in an appropriate manner and with appropriate expeditiousness. This placed a large amount of the application of the “Ongoing Storm Rule” in the hands of the deciding party on a case-by-case basis. Justice Fernandez-Vina stated clearly in its opinion that the jury could of course hear testimony that would inform whether the “Ongoing Storm Rule” would be appropriate to apply. The majority opinion was also clear that there are extenuating circumstances, which they called “unusual circumstances,” in which the breadth of the “Ongoing Storm Rule” might be reconsidered or reconfigured, and the property owner may be held responsible for accidents occurring on their public walkways. The opinion stated,

What is the “ongoing storm rule”?“First, commercial landowners may be liable if their actions increase the risk to pedestrians and invitees on their property, for example, by creating ‘unusual circumstances’ where the defendant’s conduct ‘exacerbate[s] and increase[s] the risk of injury to the plaintiff….Second, a commercial landowner may be liable where there was a pre-existing risk on the premises before the storm. For example, if a commercial landowner failed to remove or reduce a pre-existing risk on the property, including the duty to remove snow from a previous storm that has since concluded, he may be liable for an injury during a later ongoing storm.”

To ensure that you navigate your slip-and-fall lawsuit successfully as a plaintiff or commercial defendant, it is important to have the support of an experienced attorney.

Contact our Injury Attorneys for Help with Your Claim

If you are engaged in or considering filing a slip-and-fall lawsuit due to inclement New Jersey weather, our skilled injury attorneys are on your side. Examining your case to understand if it has the necessary elements to obtain compensation for a slip and fall is crucial, and we can help.

At Kamensky, Cohen & Riechelson, we successfully represent clients in Hamilton Township, Trenton, Ewing, and across Mercer, Camden, Burlington, Atlantic, Somerset, and Middlesex County.

Get in contact with us at 609-528-2596 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss the grounds for your lawsuit for injury compensation.

Slip and Fall Cases and The Burden Of Proof in NJ

You are entitled to seek the professional advice of a personal injury lawyer to help you present the most compelling evidence in your slip and fall case.

Burden of Proof for a Slip and Fall Case in NJCollecting a sufficient amount of evidence to meet the burden of proof for a slip and fall incident may be one of the most complicated steps for this type of case. It involves proving that the business owner neglected to correct any abnormality in their establishment that could lead to an incident. Also, the claimant needs to prove that the slip and fall actually took place in the particular business location they are identifying.

Crucial Elements to Build a Slip and Fall Negligence Claim

Three crucial elements need to be evaluated on a slip and fall case to deem it a valid negligence claim, following the same legal procedure as any other negligence case. The elements that truly combine to form a slip and fall claim are as follows:

Duty

A concept that recognizes a party’s contractual responsibility to another party, meaning the business owner is obligated to a legal duty of care, offers a safe environment to his customers, thus preventing any slip and fall incidents.

Breach of duty

It takes place when one of the involved parties in a case fails to comply with their duty of care towards the other party. Referring back to the slip and fall case, the business owner would have breached their duty of care towards the clients or claimants when an unsafe environment was known to be present and minimal warning was given to the buyers. For example, floors were cleaned and mopped, but no appropriate signaling was placed on warning of wet and slippery surfaces.

Causation

It is defined as the action from which the specific injury or incident occurred, thus holding a party liable for it. It usually is reserved for wrongful death cases, where the court must have the ability to determine a reasonable cause due to which the defendant’s breach of duty directly resulted in the death of the other party. Additionally, the court must also prove that the business owner is truly negligent and did not prevent the incident.

For example, going back to the slip and fall case, the business owner would have also failed to request a warning signal or demand to clean the surface, even after being aware of the wet and slippery floor. Therefore the burden of proof lies on the complainant’s ability to collect sufficient evidence and witnesses, attesting to his version of the facts, to receive damages for any personal injuries sustained due to a trip, slip, and fall event leading to serious injuries.

Obtaining Injury Compensation Does Not Need To Be Frustrating

Obtaining Injury Compensation Does Not Need To Be FrustratingBack in 1996, a popular case in the New Jersey Supreme Court, titled Wollerman v. Grand Union Stores, forced a change in how obtaining personal injury compensation is perceived, that is, not necessarily a frustrating ordeal. The Wollerman Rule states that some stores or businesses are more prone to be risky environments for their visitors based on the very nature of the manner in which they conduct business. In other words, more interactions and the type of interactions that occur in the particular type of business make accidents more of a likelihood than in others. A grocery store, for example, selling produce (vegetables and fruits) in open bins may have to keep a closer eye on produce falling to the floor, thus increasing the possibility of slips. The business is then responsible for implementing a client safety protocol designed to reduce the risk level during their operations and customer servicing schedules. In an example such as this one, the burden of proof would be in the defendant’s hands instead of the claimant’s.

Contact our Personal Injury Lawyers for a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one are in the middle of a slip and fall case and need to understand how to gather sufficient evidence to meet the burden of proof that makes you eligible for personal injury compensation, you are entitled to seek the professional advice of a personal injury lawyer. At The Law Office of Kamensky, Cohen & Riechelson, we passionately advocate for clients who have been injured in accidents in Trenton, Princeton, Hamilton, and the greater Mercer County area. Whether you are currently involved in a personal injury claim, have questions regarding the burden of proof on slip and fall incidents, or need a talented attorney who can help you navigate all the nuances and legalities to safeguard your best interests, contact our firm today.

You can call us at 609-528-2596 or contact us through our online contact form to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your individual needs and concerns.