Community association boards are responsible for the exercise of reasonable care in connection with snow and other foreseeable hazards. In the winter months, this responsibility undoubtedly includes properly “salting” and removing snow from common areas, including any of the following:
As one recent New Jersey Supreme Court case points out, community and homeowners’ associations are not insulated from liability in the event of a fall and could face significant liability at the hands of an injured resident. To learn more about how to best protect your property from this unnecessary exposure, contact Griffin Alexander, P.C. today.
In 2008, in the immediate aftermath of a blustery New Jersey winter storm, a Plainsboro woman was walking along an ice-covered sidewalk adjacent to her condominium unit, which was part of a 30-acre 55+ community known as the Villas at Cranbury Brook, when she slipped and fell shattering her wrist and severely injuring her shoulder. Several days of ice and snow accumulated, but no arrangements had been made to clear the ice and snow from the common walkways.
The injured woman initiated a lawsuit against the property developer, the management company, the landscape contractor and the homeowners’ association. At the trial court level, the judge ruled that the homeowners’ association was immune from liability, finding that interior sidewalks were akin to “the public sidewalks of any residential development.” This notion was upheld by the appellate court, and ultimately appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The rulings were based upon the development of common law notions that public sidewalks outside residential buildings, as they were not owned by the residential owners, were immune from liability for failure to maintain the sidewalks. The opposite was true in a commercial setting. The common law imposed a duty on commercial owners to maintain public sidewalks in front of their establishments. These courts found that the property in which the Plaintiff fell was more like a residential property than a commercial one.
The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed. In its holding, the Supreme Court highlighted that liability rests on the owner of the sidewalk, regardless of who actually uses the walkway. In its holding the Court opined that “[r]esidential public-sidewalk immunity does not apply in the case of a sidewalk privately owned by a common-interest community,” and that if the homeowners’ association is not responsible for maintenance, then who is?
The answer, according to the Court, is found within the association’s bylaws – which clearly and unequivocally stated that the association is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of common areas and sidewalks, a directive which, the Court found, includes the prompt and thorough removal of snow and ice.
In New Jersey community associations, therefore, it is vital to look at the governing documents and understand the duties and responsibilities of your association.
If you would like to discuss best practices with regard to proper snow and ice removal procedures for your community association, please do not hesitate to contact Griffin Alexander, P.C. today: (973) 366-1188.
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