Ciggelakis v. Logan

A-6744-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: October 1, 1999

SIDEWALKS; LIABILITY—A commercial property owner is not liable for injuries caused by defects on the grassy strip between a sidewalk and the road if the injured person was neither coming nor going to the owner’s property and the defect was not caused by the owner.

A sidewalk bounded a commercial property. A grassy area between the sidewalk and an abutting street was extended from the curb of the street to the public sidewalk. The grassy area was owned by a municipality, but the commercial property owner’s lawn mowing service mowed both the commercial property and the grassy area. A man intending to go to a nearby retail store stepped onto the grassy area and fell into what he described as a depression or hole. He then advanced two theories to impose liability on the property owner. First, he argued that the property owner was liable to him on the basis of the “means of ingress and egress” rationale described in case law. Second, he contended that the property owner’s maintenance of the grassy area was sufficient to impose liability on the owner. The lower court held for the property owner and the Appellate Division affirmed. While the injured man might have some basis for arguing liability based on the “means of ingress and egress” rationale, he was not using the grassy area to gain access to the property owner’s business. The Court found that liability under prior case law was clearly limited to abutting “sidewalks,” and “did not impose a duty upon commercial landowners to maintain contiguous lands owned by others simply because the public chooses to use the lands as a means of access to the commercial property.” “Simply put, defendants’ commercial property here had nothing to do with the plaintiff’s chosen route to some other business located in the area.” With respect to the grass cutting theory, the Appellate Division quoted the lower court judge: “[I]f the land owner undertakes to maintain a certain area, that land owner may very well be responsible for any negligent maintenance of that area. His own negligence, which would create a dangerous condition, which would then lead to someone being injured. But I don’t find that, and there’s nothing here to suggest that his maintenance created this depression… .”