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Walsh v. The County of Bergen

A-4994-01T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

SIDEWALKS; PUBLIC ENTITIES—A public entity ordinarily does not have a duty to warn pedestrians of the danger inherent in traveling on snow covered public sidewalks and does not have a duty to close such sidewalks during a snowfall.

A woman was injured when she slipped and fell on a sidewalk adjacent to a county courthouse. It had been snowing for an hour or two at the time of her injury. The total snow accumulation for that day was two and one-half inches. While walking, she saw that the sidewalks were snow covered. Her testimony was that it had rained on the day before and the rain water had turned to ice before being coated by the snowfall. Nonetheless, she testified that only after her fall did she see ice under the snow.

The lower court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the absolute common-law immunity for snow removal activities barred the woman’s cause of action. On appeal, the injured woman argued that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the county’s sidewalk was in a dangerous condition at the time of her fall. She also argued that a reasonable jury could conclude that the county was negligent in failing to warn of the danger caused by the snow and ice on the public sidewalk; and that the county should have closed the roads and sidewalks during the storm.

The Appellate Division disagreed, holding that the claim was barred by the absolute common-law immunity for snow removal activities. It held that a public entity does not have a duty to close public sidewalks and streets during snowfalls or to warn pedestrians of the dangers inherent in traveling on snow covered public sidewalks. This arises only when unanticipated events cause hazardous conditions which are different in character from the dangers ordinarily expected from a snowstorm.


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