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McAdams v. East Orange Center Urban Renewal Assoc., L.P.

A-1560-02T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER’S LIABILITY—If it snows too hard for a shopping center owner to keep up with clearing it, the owner should close the shopping center; otherwise, it is exposed to liability to injured customers even though it would have required superhuman efforts to clear the snow.

In a slip and fall case, the lower court found that a shopping center owner owed no duty to its customers to remove snow and ice and granted summary judgment in the owner’s favor. It reasoned that it was an emergency situation that would have required constant clearing of the snow and probably “superhuman” efforts. The Appellate Division reversed, noting that an owner of commercial property has a duty to take reasonable care to protect invitees from being injured from dangerous conditions it knows about or should have discovered. The Court disagreed with the lower court’s conclusion that, based on the extreme weather conditions, the owner owed no duty to the shopper as a matter of law. It found that the owner took no steps to render the property safe for customers even though it had equipment available to remove the snow and ice. It also noted that if the weather conditions were so bad that no steps could be taken to make the property safer for customers, then the shopping center should have been closed until the snow and ice could be removed and the property made safer for customers. If the weather conditions were not severe enough to close down the shopping center, the owner had a duty to take reasonable steps to clear the snow and ice. Lastly, it noted that the determination of the extent of the duty owed by the owner, and whether it fulfilled that duty, were factual issues that were to be determined by a jury and not by a judge as a matter of law.

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