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Jobson v. Long Beach Township

A-3149-03T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER’S LIABILITY—Where a property owner was both unaware of, and without a duty to be aware of, a minor defect in a public road adjacent to its property, it will not be liable for injury caused to a patron when tripping on the depression.

A woman got out of her husband’s car so she could enter a restaurant. “After walking a few steps, [she] tripped and fell in a small depression in the roadway adjoining the restaurant.” The municipality, not the restaurant, owned and controlled the roadway. Under law, “a municipality may not be held liable for failing to repair a depression in the roadway such as the one that caused” the fall. The injured woman claimed that the restaurant had a duty to maintain the roadway adjoining its restaurant, but the Court disagreed. It held that even if the restaurant “was aware of the depression and reported it to [the municipality], the municipality could have delayed filling in the depression until after it attended to what it considered to be more important road maintenance projects.” The injured woman sought to rely on a 1985 case where it was “held that a restaurant could be held liable for failing to provide adequate illumination on the part of a county roadway used by its patrons to walk to the restaurant’s parking lot across the street.” The Court distinguished the 1985 case to the one before it. It felt that in the earlier case, “a trier of fact could find that the inadequately illuminated roadway posed a high degree of risk to the restaurant’s patrons, that this dangerous condition should have been obvious to the restaurant, and that the restaurant could have mitigated this risk by providing better lighting and warning signs on its own premises.” Here, the Court felt that “[a] small depression in a roadway does not pose the same high degree of danger to pedestrians.” Further, there was no evidence that the restaurant knew or should have known of the depression. It “was only six to eight inches in diameter and at most one inch deep.” Even though the Court, in this case, found that the restaurant had no liability to the injured woman, it expressly stated that it “[had] no occasion in deciding this appeal to consider whether a commercial landowner would have a duty to warn its patrons and notify the municipality of an obvious hazardous condition on a roadway adjoining its premises.”

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