Supreme Court of New Jersey decision (August 12, 2015).
The plaintiff in this case sued the developer of a common interest development, the homeowners association, the associations management company, and a landscape contractor for damages resulting from personal injuries suffered by the plaintiff when she slipped and fell on ice that had accumulated on a common-area sidewalk within the community following a snowstorm. The plaintiff contended that defendants did not properly maintain the common area where she suffered her injury.
The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiffs complaint after finding that the private sidewalks in the community were the functional equivalent of a public sidewalk for which earlier case precedent established that the defendants who were sued were immune from liability. An appellate court subsequently affirmed the trial court decision, and the plaintiff appealed to the State Supreme Court.
The State Supreme Court found that the immunity doctrine that the lower courts had based their decisions on was no controlling in this case because the plaintiffs injuries were not suffered on a public street and earlier decisions had not addressed a private sidewalk that is part of the common area in a common interest development where there was no public easement over the sidewalk. In this case the associations governing documents imposed duties on the association to maintain and insure the common areas, including the sidewalk on which the plaintiff was injured and the association collected maintenance fees from homeowners to cover the expenses for same. In reversing the lower courts decisions and finding in favor of the plaintiff, the Supreme Court found that the homeowners association, as the owner of the private walkways with the common interest development had a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect those entering the property from dangerous conditions on the property. Thus, the homeowners association had a duty to make the private walkways in the community reasonably safe, and to the extent reasonable, to clear snow and ice that presents a danger to known or expected visitors.
See case decision: Qian_v._Toll_Bros._Inc._(N.J