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Cianfrani v. Conquest

A-4597-03T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

SIDEWALKS—A homeowner who did not cause a defect or had no responsibility to repair a defect in the grassy strip between the home’s sidewalk and the street is not liable to a pedestrian who is injured by tripping in a hole in that strip.

A pedestrian was walking on a brick sidewalk in a residential neighborhood until she reached an area where the bricks were uprooted. She stepped off the sidewalk and continued walking along the grass median between the sidewalk and the curb. While crossing the grassy strip, stepped into a hole and was injured. She sued the homeowner where the bricks were uprooted and where she fell. The lower court dismissed the case and the pedestrian appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court noted that the case of Stewart v. 104 Wallace St., Inc., 87 N.J. 146 (1981) requires owners of commercial property to maintain the sidewalks abutting their property in reasonably good condition and hold them liable for injuries to pedestrians if they fail to do so. The reasoning behind that holding was that commercial landowners reap a benefit from the sidewalks, such as the ease in which customers can access their businesses. The Stewart case did not, however, extend liability to residential property owners. Homeowners are not liable for injuries sustained unless they created the condition, negligently repaired it, or obstructed it in such a manner as to render it unsafe for passers by. With respect to the grassy strip, the Court found that the homeowner was not responsible for the maintenance of the median since it was the responsibility of the municipal Shade Tree Commission and there was no evidence that the homeowner created the hole hidden in the strip. The Court also found that while the municipal construction code imposed a repair responsibility on residential owners, such responsibility only exists if the homeowner receives written notice from the municipality. The Court noted that there was no evidence that the municipality notified the homeowner that it was required to repair the grassy strip. Therefore, the homeowner was not liable for the pedestrian’s injuries.

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