The New Jersey Supreme Court recently issued a significant decision in a case involving CBIZ Borden Perlman client, Princeton International Properties, adopting the so-called “ongoing storm rule,” which provides that commercial landlords do not have a duty to keep sidewalks on their property free from snow and ice during an ongoing storm, but rather only have a duty to remove snow and ice within a reasonable time after hazardous precipitation has ended.  This decision is expected to have a significant benefit to commercial property owners in reducing their slip-and-fall liability.  We are very pleased that our insurance company, FMI, fought this issue to the bitter end on our client’s behalf to secure this win for commercial property owners throughout the state of New Jersey.

 In Pareja v. Princeton International Properties, Supreme Court Opinion can be found here, the plaintiff was walking to work in the early morning hours in light rain and below-freezing temperatures.  As he proceeded along the sidewalk, he slipped and fell on ice in a driveway apron, causing a significant injury.  The trial court dismissed the case on summary judgment on the basis that the landowner did not owe any duty to the Plaintiff, but the Appellate Division reversed, holding that the landowner must “take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting its property – covered by snow or ice – reasonably safe, even when precipitation is falling.”  The landowner then appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

 The Supreme Court observed that a duty to take reasonable steps to clear a walkway during an ongoing storm “does not consider the size, resources, and ability of individual commercial landowners or recognize that what may be reasonable for larger commercial landowners may not be reasonable – or even possible – for smaller ones.”  Deciding that the “ongoing storm rule” should apply to impose a duty to clear snow and ice only after the storm has ended, the Court “decline[d] to impose a duty that cannot be adhered to by all commercial landowners.”  Accordingly, ”absent unusual circumstances, a commercial landowner’s duty to remove snow and ice hazards arises not during the storm, but rather within a reasonable time after the storm.

 This standard is now applicable to all commercial landowners in New Jersey, and application of that standard to slip-and-fall claims going forward is expected to result in a much more manageable claims landscape going forward.  Not only will claimants have less opportunity to impose liability on landowners, but also the affirmative obligation of landowners to go to great lengths to keep their walkways clear at all times will be eased at the same time.  Overall, this decision is welcome news for owners of commercial property.

 CBIZ Borden Perlman is providing this information to you as your insurance brokers only, and the above summary should not in any way be interpreted as legal advice.  For more information about how this decision may impact your business operations, we strongly recommend that you speak with your legal counsel.