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Bolger v. County of Monmouth

A-2735-03T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

GOVERNMENTAL IMMUNITY—Public entities have immunity against claims for negligent snow removal activities even from their governmental parking lots.

A juror sued the county after she slipped on snow and ice in a courthouse parking lot when reporting for duty. The lower court held that the county was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it was immune to such a suit. On appeal, the juror argued that the county was not entitled to immunity under the Tort Claims Act (TCA) because the parking lot was not covered under the “streets and highways” immunity provision. The juror also argued that the county was not entitled to common law snow removal immunity because the lot was not covered under that immunity doctrine.

The TCA provides that neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for an injury caused solely by the effect of weather conditions on the use of streets and highways. The county conceded that it was not entitled to immunity under the TCA because the courthouse parking lot was neither a street or highway. However, prior to the enactment of the TCA, public entities had immunity against claims for negligent snow removal activities. This common law immunity was not limited to streets and roads, but extended to their parking lots. The Appellate Division held that the adoption of the TCA did not modify this absolute immunity. The unusual traveling conditions following a snowfall are obvious to the public. The very nature of snow removal activities leaves behind “dangerous conditions.” No matter how effective an entity’s snow-removal activities may be, a number of claims could always be filed after every snowstorm. The Court refused to second guess a county’s governmental determinations of prioritizing its snow removal activities given the limited resources a county has available for that purpose. Finally, the Court held that the immunity could not be pierced simply because the juror was called to duty at the courthouse. Therefore, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding that the county was immune from the suit.

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