A few months back we blogged about a case making its way up the New Jersey Court system which would test a Homeowners’ Association’s liability for a slip and fall accident on their sidewalk. Historically Associations have had immunity from these types of lawsuits and the cases were dismissed by the Courts. Now, everything has changed.
The Supreme Court has ruled that a Condominium Homeowners’ Association can be held liable for injuries caused by poorly maintained sidewalks owned by the Association. The Court said that the pivotal factor in determining sidewalk liability is who owns the sidewalk, not who uses it. The Court further stated that residential sidewalk immunity does not apply in the case of a sidewalk privately owned by an Association.
In this case the plaintiff was walking to the store shortly after freezing rain had iced over the sidewalk. The sidewalk had not been cleared and the plaintiff fell. The Association had hired a company to clear snow/ice from the sidewalks. The Associations’ contract with the company said that it would automatically clear snow or ice fall of two inches or more and that the association would have to pay for extra services for cleaning any accumulation of two inches or less. In this case, the association did not ask for the additional services.
The lower courts both found that the Association had immunity from liability.
The New Jersey Supreme Court noted the Homeowners’ Association’s bylaws stated that the Association was responsible for maintaining all common areas and that the Association had a statutory obligation under the relevant portion of the Condominium Act to do so as well.
The Court stated that one of the purposes the Condominium Act was to encourage Homeowners’ Associations to properly maintain private sidewalks within the developments’ borders.
This ruling will drastically change how Homeowners’ Associations operate. The previous winter in the northeast was riddled with snow and ice. Now, in order to protect themselves from liability, Homeowners’ Associations may have to increase their monthly dues in order to properly maintain the property before, during and after any storms.