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Whalen v. Porte Liberte Condominium

A-3344-03T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

CONDOMINIUMS; LIABILITY—A condominium association’s breach of its duty to manage its common areas, such as enforcing its parking rules, may give rise to liability to a unit owner who suffers physical damage as a result of such breach.

A condominium unit owner repeatedly asked the condominium’s management to properly regulate the condominium’s parking area. The unit owner repeatedly complained about problems accessing her parking space because of a car improperly parked within the designated adjacent spot. The condominium’s management tried only once to resolve the problem. Ultimately, while trying to park in her own spot and avoid hitting the improperly parked car in the adjacent spot, the unit owner hit a pole. She sued the condominium for damages. The lower court found that the condominium’s failure to regulate this common area was the proximate cause of the owner’s damages.

To demonstrate a cause of action in negligence, a plaintiff must prove a duty of care owed by the defendant to plaintiff, a breach of that duty by the defendant, and an injury to the plaintiff proximately caused by the defendant’s breach. The Appellate Division noted that the condominium association did not dispute that it owed a duty of care to the unit owner. The Court concluded that the duty arose out of the parties’ contractual relationship, the association’s assumption of the duty to protect the common areas, the association’s obligation to govern the use of the parking facilities, and its failed attempt to cure the owner’s parking problems. The Court also held that the association breached its duty to the unit owner by making only one attempt to resolve the parking problem.

The condominium association denied liability, arguing that the unit owner was the proximate cause of the damages because she herself struck the pole. The Court rejected that position, holding that even if the damage would have occurred in the absence of the condominium’s negligence, liability may still be imposed upon a showing that negligent conduct was a substantial factor in causing the alleged harm. Liability attaches not only to the dominating cause but also to any cause which constitutes a substantial factor in bringing about the injury. In order to impose liability, the unit owner was not required to show that the condominium’s negligence was the sole proximate cause of the damages, but merely a proximate cause. Therefore, the Appellate Division held that the lower court’s decision in favor of the unit owner was supported by sufficient evidence.

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