Under New Jersey law, the owner, resident or manager of real property has a duty to maintain the premises so as to minimize the risk of injury to anyone legally on the property. That applies to conditions caused by winter weather, including snow, freezing rain and ice on sidewalks, steps, driveways or other thoroughfares.
New Jersey’s law requires that property owners or managers take “reasonable” steps to monitor property for potentially dangerous conditions, and employ “reasonable” measures to remedy the problem or prevent people from suffering injury.
It’s important to understand, though, that New Jersey law has different standards for residential and commercial properties, as a general rule. A homeowner typically has no legal responsibility to either remove snow/ice from sidewalks, steps or driveways, or to notify pedestrians or visitors of any risk tied to snowfall, ice or the accumulation of snow. One exception to this rule, though—a homeowner may be liable if he or she has made a natural condition treacherous by doing or failing to do something. In addition, this rule does not apply to owners of apartments complexes or multi-dwelling residential structures.
For commercial property owners, provided the buildup of snow or ice was reasonably foreseeable, the owner will be considered to have known of the potential danger, and can be liable, even in the absence of actual knowledge. For example, if a commercial property owner observes snowfall, then observes temperatures rising above, then dipping back below, the freezing point, it will likely be reasonably foreseeable by the property owner that snow would melt and then refreeze as ice. There is no need for the property owner to have actual knowledge of the presence of ice.
In addition to the concept of natural accumulation, where the property owner is expected to reasonably anticipate a buildup of snow based on a period of snowfall, there is also a duty in New Jersey to alleviate the problem by removing snow and ice. Failure to do so will likely lead to liability for any injuries sustained.
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