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Pucaro v. Dericks

A-1141-04T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

SIDEWALKS— In general, residential homeowners are not required to care for or maintain sidewalks abutting their property and are not responsible for a sidewalk’s deterioration that is a result of normal wear and tear, however they may be liable for injuries caused by sidewalks that they or their predecessors-in-interest negligently constructed or repaired.

A woman was injured when she fell on the sidewalk in front of two adjoining properties. The sidewalk on which she fell was broken and slanted and she attributed her fall to the poor condition of the sidewalk. She filed a negligence action against the owners of both properties because she was unaware of the exact location of her fall. Both homeowners moved for summary judgment, asserting that they were not responsible for the condition of the public sidewalks as residential homeowners. In response, the woman contended that the damage to the sidewalk was caused by work that one of the owners had performed on his driveway. Several years prior, one of the owners had his driveway repaved, and at that time, its contractors drove concrete trucks over the sidewalk causing substantial damage to the sidewalk. As a result, the woman contended that the homeowners were responsible for the poor condition of the sidewalk and were therefore liable for her injuries. The lower court granted the homeowners’ summary judgment motions and the woman appealed. On appeal, the woman argued that the lower court erred in its finding because the dangerous condition of the sidewalk was created by the affirmative acts of the homeowners.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling. In reaching its determination, it discussed the distinction between the duties of residential homeowners and commercial homeowners with respect to the maintenance of sidewalks. Generally, residential homeowners are not required to care or maintain sidewalks abutting their property and are not responsible for a sidewalk’s deterioration that is a result of normal wear and tear. However, according to the affirmative act doctrine, residential homeowners may be liable for injuries caused by sidewalks that they or their predecessors-in-interest negligently constructed or repaired. It discussed a recent New Jersey Supreme Court case where it was held that commercial homeowners are liable for abutting sidewalks that are damaged by vehicles that have driven over them for the benefit of the owner’s business, but noted that this liability had not yet been extended to residential homeowners. As a result, the Court refrained from imposing liability on the homeowners for the poor condition of the sidewalk and found that the lower court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the homeowners.


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