Bodnar v. Skripkus

A-1719-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: May 28, 1999

SIDEWALKS; LIABILITY—Once a municipality disbands its municipal shade trade commission, a commercial property owner has the obligation to repair and maintain the sidewalk abutting its property in the vicinity of shade trees.

An elderly woman tripped on a portion of a sidewalk located in front of commercial property which had been raised by roots from a nearby tree, planted and maintained by the municipality. The landlord argued that the municipality was liable for the woman’s injuries because the municipality had planted the tree and the municipality or its Shade Tree Commission was responsible for the tree and sidewalk in front of the commercial premises. The municipality contented that its Shade Tree Commission had been disbanded many years earlier upon adoption of an ordinance transferring its responsibilities to its Department of Public Works. In addition, the municipality had an ordinance that required a property owner to maintain the sidewalks abutting its property. By law, a sidewalk abutting commercial property does not constitute public property within the municipality’s control and for which the municipality is liable. On the other hand, by law, a commercial landowner may be relieved of its obligation to repair and maintain the sidewalk in the vicinity of a shade tree if there exists a municipal shade tree commission. Here, there was no dispute that the municipality repealed the ordinance which established its Shade Tree Commission and transferred its activities to its Public Works Department. Consequently, the abutting commercial property owner could not shift its obligation and liability to the municipality.