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Schwartz v. Jamieson, Moore, Peskin & Spicer, P.C.

A-1616-02T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER LIABILITY—It is for a jury to decide if a property owner improperly failed to remove snow from the access ways to its property and some relevant factors are the extent and timing of the snowfall, the time of day, the efforts taken, and the practicality of removing the snow in stages.

A man was aware of bad weather conditions. When he entered his car, a snowy, icy rain mixture was falling. Nonetheless, he drove cautiously from his home to a law office for a real estate closing. When he arrived, he saw that the parking lot was covered with one inch of wet snow. He got out of his car, and while walking to the office, he fell and was injured. He sued the law office, alleging that it had breached the duty of care owed to him as an invitee.

The lower court, on summary judgment, held that the law office breached no duty. It agreed that a commercial owner is required to clear snow and ice from its property within a reasonable time, but in this case, thought that there being only one inch of snow at the time of the accident, it was not unreasonable to have left it uncleared. The lower court’s view was that it was impractical for the law firm to remove the snow after such a minimal accumulation. In addition, it felt that a reasonable time period had not passed from when the firm became aware of the hazardous condition.

The Appellate Division disagreed. A commercial landowner is required to maintain its premises, including means of access to the premises, in a reasonably safe condition. Some factors to be taken into consideration are the extent and timing of the snowfall, the time of day, the nature of the efforts actually taken by the landowner to maintain the premises, the practicality of cleaning up in stages, and the pedestrian’s care for his own safety. Accordingly, the Court felt that these factors were for a jury, not a judge, to consider. Therefore, the lower court should not have decided this matter by summary judgment.


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