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Commercial Landowner’s Duty to Remove Snow and Ice During a Storm

In New Jersey, do commercial property owners have a duty to remove snow and ice from their property while it is still snowing or raining? Except in unusual circumstances, the New Jersey Supreme Court says no.

On June 10, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision held that a commercial landowner does not have a duty to remove snow and ice until the conclusion of the storm. Pareja v. Princeton International Properties, ___ N.J. ___ (2021). In reversing the Appellate Division’s holding, the Supreme Court expressly adopted what has become known as the “ongoing storm rule.”

In 2020, the Appellate Division had imposed a duty of ordinary and reasonable care that would require commercial landowners who had actual or constructive notice of a hazard to act reasonably in removing or reducing the hazard. This duty would have required a landowner to clean up snow and ice even while precipitation was still falling.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Appellate Division, reasoning that such a duty does not consider the size, resources, and ability of individual commercial landowners. What may be reasonable for a larger commercial landowner may not be reasonable or even possible for smaller ones. Therefore, the Supreme Court declined to impose a duty that could not be followed by all commercial landowners.

Instead, the Supreme Court expressly adopted the ongoing storm rule. The ongoing storm rule stands for the idea that it is inexpedient and impractical to remove or reduce hazards from snow and ice while precipitation is ongoing. Absent unusual circumstances, a commercial landowner’s duty to remove snow and ice begins within a reasonable time after the storm.

The Supreme Court identified two unusual circumstances that serve as exceptions to the ongoing storm rule. First, a commercial landowner may be liable if their actions increase or exacerbate the risk of injury to pedestrians or visitors.

Second, a commercial landowner may be liable if there was a pre-existing risk on the property before the storm. This includes a situation where the landowner failed to remove snow from a previous storm that had concluded, and a new storm begins and is ongoing.

As the New Jersey Supreme Court has now expressly adopted the ongoing storm rule, commercial landowners in New Jersey generally do not owe any duty to remove snow or ice during a storm, and will not be liable absent an unusual circumstance.

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