Housing authority could be liable for injuries caused by icy sidewalk

A person who suffers serious injuries due to poorly maintained or dangerous property should be entitled to compensation for his or her injuries. However, what if the party at fault is a city?

Generally, under New Jersey law, a public entity is not liable for an injury caused solely by the effect of weather conditions on the use of streets and highways, such as ice. The recent New Jersey Superior Court case of Tymczyszyn v. Columbus Gardens considered whether that same law also applied to an icy sidewalk.

Icy sidewalk leads to injuries

One morning, the victim was walking to a bus stop using a sidewalk when she slipped on the ice and fell. The sidewalk abutted a multi-unit residential property which was owned and operated by the Hoboken Housing Authority, a government entity. The victim sued the housing authority to recover damages for the injuries she sustained as a result of the fall.

The trial court granted the housing authority's motion to dismiss the case without even allowing the victim to present her case at a trial. Among other findings, the trial court held that the protection provided to public entities under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act provided the housing authority with "immunity"-that is, an exemption from lawsuits for such injuries related to weather conditions on streets or highways. The trial court also found that the victim failed to establish that the housing authority caused the dangerous conditions leading to her fall. The victim appealed this decision.

Could the housing authority be liable?

With regard to the housing authority causing the dangerous condition, the Superior Court noted that the maintenance crew used a mini-bulldozer to clear the snow. The blade of the equipment used a blade that left snow piles bordering each side. An engineering expert reported that this procedure permitted the snow piles that bordered the pathway to melt when temperatures temporarily rose, which then could form into ice overnight. According to the expert, this dynamic was readily foreseeable and could have been easily avoided by the housing authority. The Superior Court stated that it was not unreasonable to expect the management of a public housing complex to be able to remove snow and ice from the limited area of an abutting sidewalk to avoid this situation.

With regard to the housing authority's immunity, while the law does provide immunity for an injury caused solely by the effect of weather conditions on the use of streets and highways, the Supreme Court had previously made clear that such immunity did not apply to a driveway. The Superior Court found that the same logic that applied to driveways also excluded "sidewalks" from immunity.

Thus, the Superior Court reversed the decision of the trial court, allowing the victim the opportunity to present her case at a full trial.

Landowners can be held responsible

When a landowner fails to fulfill his or her duties to the public by neglecting to keep their property safe, injuries may result. Under the law of "premises liability," landowners might be held responsible for injuries caused by this failure, whether the party is a government entity or a commercial company.

If you are injured due to the negligence of a landowner, you should seek an attorney experienced in helping people obtain the compensation they deserve for injuries caused by such dangerous conditions.