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Condo Liability In Snow Storms

by: Noah Botwinick

The Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently overturned a grant of summary judgement to a defendant community association sued by a pedestrian who slipped on ice in a condominium parking lot within an hour of a snowstorm, citing an exception to the recently adopted ongoing storm rule.

In Hanna v. Woodlan Cmty. Ass’n, No. A-0277-21 (App. Div. Nov. 17, 2022), a plaintiff condominium resident who fell in the snowy parking lot of a condominium complex challenged the trial court’s grant of summary judgement to the defendant community association.

The plaintiff had fallen within an hour after the second of two snowstorms which occurred successively on January 6 and 7.

In granting summary judgement, the trial court relied almost entirely on the “ongoing storm rule,” which was recently adopted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Pareja v. Princeton Int’l Props., 246 N.J. 546 (2021). Under that rule, “commercial landowners do not have a duty to remove the accumulation of snow and ice until the conclusion of the storm.” Pareja, 246 N.J. at 558.

This rule suspends a landowner’s duty until a reasonable time after the cessation of precipitation. New Jersey case law has consistently held condominium associations to the same premises liability standards as commercial landowners. Thus, the trial judge found that because the plaintiff had fallen within an hour after the second storm, the community association did not owe him a duty pursuant to the ongoing storm rule.

However, the appellate division reversed the summary judgement, citing the pre-existing storm exception to the ongoing storm rule. Under that exception, the rule does not apply where a plaintiff falls on ice or snow that formed and went untreated from a preexisting storm. Here, the plaintiff argued that he fell as a result of ice from the January 6 storm, and thus the defendant could still be held liable under the exception to the ongoing storm rule.

The court found that because the plaintiff had presented expert meteorology reports regarding the issue of ice buildup, a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether plaintiff fell on ice from the January 6 storm or the January 7 storm. Thus, because it was possible that the January 6 storm actually created a preexisting risk, the court reversed the summary judgement and remanded the case to determine the validity of the plaintiff’s expert’s opinion regarding whether plaintiff slipped on ice from the January 6 storm.

The takeaway:    Commercial property owners receive a lot of protection from the ongoing storm rule.  But as is usually the case, there are real limitations to the level of protection.

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