Ice, snow, and liability: understanding premises liability during winter months
When winter descends upon us, it brings with it not only the magic of snow-covered landscapes but also the potential hazards of icy sidewalks and slippery walkways. Certain property owners in New Jersey have a legal duty to maintain their premises in a safe condition, and this duty doesn’t take a vacation during the winter months. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the intricacies of premises liability in New Jersey during winter and understand the obligations of property owners. As a leading law firm in New Jersey, Team Law is here to shed light on this important topic and provide you with valuable insights on how to navigate the icy terrain of premises liability in the winter.
Winter months can be a beautiful and enchanting time of the year, as the world around us transforms into a picturesque wonderland with glistening snow and icicles. However, beneath this snowy blanket lies a potential minefield of hazards that can lead to slip and fall accidents, injuries, and sometimes even serious consequences. It is the responsibility of certain property owners to ensure that their premises remain safe, regardless of the weather conditions.
In New Jersey, as in many other states, premises liability laws hold commercial property owners, and sometimes residential property owners, accountable for maintaining safe conditions on their properties. This duty includes taking necessary precautions to address ice and snow-related hazards during the winter months. Failure to do so can result in serious consequences, including legal liability if someone is injured on the property. Owners of once family homes ordinarily have no duty to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks unless they do something that increases the risk to pedestrians. Two or three family homes may or may not have a duty, depending on whether the owner lives in the home.
Duty of Care
1. Property Owner’s Responsibilities
Property owners, whether they are business owners or landlords, have a legal duty to keep their premises reasonably safe for customers, visitors and guests. This duty includes taking measures to prevent slip and fall accidents caused by icy or snowy conditions. To fulfill this duty of care, property owners should:
a. Snow and Ice Removal:
- Regularly clear snow and ice from sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, and other common areas where visitors may walk or park.
- Ensure that cleared areas are adequately treated with salt or sand to prevent the formation of ice.
b. Inspection and Maintenance:
- Regularly inspect their property for hazardous conditions, including icy patches, and promptly address them.
- Fix any drainage issues that may contribute to ice formation.
c. Warning Signs:
- Post clear warning signs in areas where there is a risk of slipping on ice or snow.
- Ensure adequate lighting to identify and avoid potential hazards.
2. Special Considerations
In New Jersey, it’s essential to understand that the duty of care can extend not only to the property owner but also to individuals responsible for property maintenance. For example, if a business hires a snow removal company, both the business owner and the snow removal company share the responsibility for ensuring that the premises are safe. This joint responsibility can complicate matters when determining liability in case of an accident.
Some public entities in New Jersey, such as housing authorities, may be responsible for snow and ice removal on their property,, but may also have special defenses to claims under the law based upon their public-entity status. Ordinarily, municipalities are not responsible for clearing snow and ice from public sidewalks
3. How Liability is Determined in New Jersey
Premises liability in New Jersey is often determined based on the legal concept of negligence. To establish liability, the injured party (plaintiff) must prove that:
a. Duty of Care Existed:
- The property owner owed a duty of care to maintain safe premises during winter.
b. Breach of Duty:
- The property owner breached that duty by failing to take reasonable steps to address the icy or snowy conditions.
- The breach of duty was the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
- The plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result of the injury.
In cases involving snow and ice-related accidents, establishing liability can be complex. Property owners may argue that they took reasonable precautions, such as clearing snow and applying salt, while the injured party may contend that the measures were insufficient or that the property owner was negligent in some other way.
Additionally, New Jersey follows a modified comparative negligence rule, which means that if the injured party is found to be partially at fault for the accident, their recovery may be reduced in proportion to their degree of fault. This can make it even more critical to establish liability based on the property owner’s negligence.
4. Common Defenses
Property owners in New Jersey can use various defenses to protect themselves against premises liability claims related to winter accidents. Some common defenses include:
a. Lack of Notice:
- The property owner may argue that they were unaware of the hazardous conditions, and therefore, had no opportunity to address them.
b. Reasonable Efforts:
- The property owner may assert that they took reasonable steps to address the snow and ice, and the accident occurred despite their efforts.
c. Comparative Negligence:
- The property owner may claim that the injured party was not properly observant or was otherwise at least partially responsible for the occurrence of the accident.
d. Ongoing Storm Rule
- The property owner has no duty to clear ice or snow while the storm is still ongoing and for a reasonable time after the storm ends. There is no definition of what constitutes a reasonable time
What to Do If You’re Injured
5. Guide for Next Steps
If you find yourself injured due to a slip and fall accident on icy or snowy property in New Jersey, it’s essential to take the following steps:
a. Seek Medical Attention:
- Your health should be your top priority. Seek immediate medical attention if you are injured.
b. Document the Scene:
- If possible, take photographs of the accident scene, including the hazardous conditions and any warning signs present.
c. Gather Witness Information:
- If there were any witnesses to the accident, obtain their contact information.
d. Report the Incident:
- Inform the property owner or management about the incident and ask them to make a written record of it.
e. Preserve Evidence:
- Keep any clothing or footwear that may have been affected by the accident as potential evidence.
f. Consult an Attorney:
- Reach out to an experienced premises liability attorney who can evaluate your case and guide you through the legal process.
Contact an Experienced Premises Liability Lawyer At Team Law, for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today
Winter brings a unique set of challenges to property owners in New Jersey. The duty of care remains in effect, and it’s vital for property owners to be proactive in addressing snow and ice-related hazards to avoid premises liability claims. Understanding the obligations of property owners, the principles of liability, and the defenses they may use is essential for both property owners and potential plaintiffs.
As a leading law firm in New Jersey, Team Law is committed to providing legal guidance and representation to those who have suffered injuries due to the negligence of property owners. We recognize the importance of premises liability in winter months and are here to help you navigate the complexities of the legal system.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a winter-related slip and fall accident and believe that the property owner’s negligence played a role, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a case evaluation. Our experienced attorneys are ready to determine whether the property owner is liable and assist you in seeking the compensation you deserve for your injuries and related expenses. Your safety is our priority, and we are here to help you every step of the way. Contact Team Law today and let us fight for your rights in the challenging landscape of premises liability during the winter months in New Jersey.