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Taliaferro v. West Side High School

A-3048-04T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2006) (Unpublished)

LANDOWNER LIABILITY; PUBLIC ENTITIES; IMMUNITIES—A public entity has both a weather immunity and a common law immunity to protect itself against claims arising out a slip on icy pavement by a non-tenant.

One evening, a man went to help at a basketball practice session in a public school. When he entered the building, the ground was dry. While he was in the building, the weather worsened and when he left the building, he slipped and fell on icy pavement. The injured man alleged that the public school was “responsible for his injuries because [it] failed to either salt or sand the icy area where he slipped and fell.” The public school claimed common-law snow ice removal immunity. The lower court found in favor of the public school, concluding that “this case falls right within all of the cases that fall within the common law immunity.” The Appellate Division agreed, pointing out that “salting and sanding [fell] under the umbrella of snow removal activities.” In its view, the injured man’s “claims of negligence fall squarely within those activities immunized by Miehl v. Darpino, 53 N.J. 49 (1968), and that immunity was unaffected by passage of the Tort Claims Act.” Case law has held that “[b]y their very nature however, snow-removal activities leave behind ‘dangerous conditions.’ No matter how effective an entity’s snow-removal activities may be, a multitude of claims could be filed after every snow storm.” Case law also has stated that: “We can conceive of no other governmental function that would expose public entities to more litigation if this immunity were to be abrogated.”

In his appeal, the injured man argued that a 1993 New Jersey Supreme Court case “recogniz[ed] narrow exception to the common-law immunity for snow removal activities by public entities.” In that case, a tenant of a public authority “fell on ice in the driveway outside of her apartment building.” The public housing authority, in that case, was held to have “failed to meet its burden to establish either the weather immunity or the common-law immunity.” Two factors critical in that “exception” case were the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship between the parties and “unlike a municipality, the housing-complex manager had a much smaller and self-contained area under his control – ‘a finite, bounded area.’” In this case, neither of those factors were present. The Court held that the exception applied only to the relationship between public housing authorities and their tenants and pointed to subsequent cases to the same effect.

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