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Leonardo v. Venator Group, Inc.

A-1605-02T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER’S LIABILITY—The owner of a parking lot who has posted the lot with “for customers only” signs does not have any obligation to clear it of snow and ice after the owner has closed for the night even if it knows that uninvited persons are parking in the lot to patronize nearby businesses.

A bar patron left a bar at 11:00 p.m. Because the bar’s parking lot was filled when he arrived, he had parked his car in a connecting lot, which was used by a retail store. The retail store had posted signs on its lot limiting parking to its own customers. On the night in question, the store had closed at 9:00 p.m. The bar patron admitted that the store’s lot was a “sheet of ice.” He noted that although the bar’s lot was covered with snow, it appeared to have been “shoveled.” When the bar patron returned to his car, he slipped on the ice in the retail store’s parking lot injuring himself. He sued the retail store and a snow removal company.

The lower court ruled in favor of the retail store and the snow removal company on the basis that the bar patron should not have been using the lot. The bar patron appealed, claiming that it was foreseeable that the bar’s customers would use the store’s lot. The Appellate Division disagreed, holding that the store did not owe him a duty of care. The store’s signs said that its lot was for its customers only. It had no duty to protect the lot from people who decide to park there when they were going to a different facility. Similarly, even though the snow removal contractor was responsible for clearing the lot of snow, it did not have a duty to somebody parking in the lot when it was closed so as to patronize a nearby business. Given that the store had been closed for two hours when the injury occurred, the snow removal contractor had no obligation to clear the lot based on the assumption that someone would ignore the signs and park in the lot after the store had closed. For those reasons, the Appellate Division dismissed the claims.

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