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Perera v. The Rector Wardens and Vestrymen of Grace Church in the Town of Union, Inc.

A-2852-00T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2002) (Unpublished)

SIDEWALKS— Whether a legislative change or a decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court, a religious organization will not be liable for sidewalk accidents in front of its house of worship.

A pedestrian was injured “when he fell on a cracked and broken public sidewalk located in front of” a church. Although the church’s property included “a parish hall and a parsonage, the fall incurred in front of the church itself.” The church building was occasionally used by community groups, “making minor donations or paying minimal fees for such use.” The inured pedestrian argued that under these circumstances, a church should no longer be immunized from actions for personal injuries. The Appellate Division disagreed, pointing to 1985 case law which stated that New Jersey had “not yet imposed an affirmative duty on charitable and religious institutions to maintain public sidewalks abutting their properties or risk money damages for injuries caused to the public by unrepaired defects.” It didn’t matter that a 1988 case permitted a personal injury action in a slip and fall case where the injury occurred on snow and ice on a public sidewalk that abutted a school owned and operated by a non-profit religious organization. The 1988 Court only extended its findings “to similarly situated parochial and private schools.” Nonetheless, this Court refused to make religious organizations liable for sidewalk accidents happening in front of houses of worship, opining instead that new causes of action, such as the one proposed by the pedestrian, generally “should be created by legislative enactment or by the Supreme Court rather than by an intermediate appellate court.”

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