This blog is a follow-up to a prior blog on my website concerning the ability to sue a landowner where an injury occurs as result of a slip or fall on ice or snow. My prior blog discusses the liability aspects as they relate to private landowners. This blog will address the liability as it relates to the State of New Jersey and municipal subdivisions. Municipal subdivisions include Cities, Townships, Boroughs, Counties, and any other public entities that own property or control property.
Unfortunately, the answer to the question of whether a public entity is responsible for injuries when an individual falls on ice or snow on that public entity’s property or property controlled by that public entity is not straight forward. The short answer is that “it depends.”
In order to answer this question, we must start off with a brief discussion of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act which is contained in Title 59 of New Jersey’s Statutes. Specifically, the New Jersey Tort Claims Act was enacted in the early 1970s in order to provide citizens with the right to sue the State of New Jersey and its municipal subdivisions under various circumstances. Prior to that time, under common law, the State of New Jersey was considered a “sovereign” and citizens could not sue the “sovereign” for injuries sustained. However, when the Legislature enacted the New Jersey Tort Claims Act and allowed its citizens to sue the State of New Jersey and its political subdivisions, a number of exceptions were made. As a relates to this blog, the Tort Claims Act provided the State of New Jersey and its municipal subdivisions with immunity for snow removal. This means that neither the State of New Jersey nor its municipal subdivisions may be sued for personal injury damages where the injuries arise out of the failure to remove ice or snow. This is known as the “snow removal immunity.”
A review of the case law which has interpreted the snow removal immunity under the Tort Claims Act reveals a broad interpretation of its’ provisions to protect the State of New Jersey and its municipal subdivisions as much as possible. Basically, citizens are prevented from suing the State of New Jersey or any of its municipal subdivisions for damages or injuries as a result of the failure to remove ice or snow from its property or property controlled by it. This has been interpreted to include sidewalks, roads and highways. Further, this has been interpreted to include the negligent removal of ice or snow even if the State or its municipal subdivision attempted to remove the ice and snow, but did so improperly.
In order to determine whether or not the snow removal immunity applies in a particular case, it must be determined exactly where the ice and/or snow was located and whether or not the State of New Jersey or one of its municipal subdivisions either owned or was in control of the area. When the State of New Jersey or one of its municipal subdivisions actually own the property, the analysis is easy. However, there are other “pieces of property” that municipal subdivisions actually control for purposes of snow removal immunity which they do not own. One example are municipal sidewalks and right of ways in areas of non-commercial property. Additionally, it must be determined whether or not the entity actually qualifies for immunity under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. For instance, entities such as New Jersey Transit and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority are considered “public entities” under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act even though they are not “true” municipal subdivisions.
However, even if a slip or fall occurs as a result of ice or snow on property owned or controlled by the State of New Jersey or one of its municipal subdivisions, there may be other factors involved that prevent the application of the snow removal immunity. One example is where another condition of the public property causes the ongoing existence of ice and/or snow. For instance, where a drain pipe empties onto a walkway and, despite the fact that the snow and/or ice may have been been previously removed, it regenerates itself as result of freezing temperatures after the drainpipe places water onto the walkway.
One other warning must be discussed where one is injured as a result of falling on ice or snow on a public property. Any claims against the State of New Jersey or one of its municipal subdivisions must be reported to the State or the appropriate municipal subdivision within 90 days from the date of the incident. Failure to provide notice may prevent a person from pursuing a claim.
Accordingly, if you or a family member are injured as result of a slip and fall on ice or snow in an area that may be owned, controlled or maintained by the State of New Jersey or another public entity, it is important that you seek the advice of an attorney that has experience dealing with these types of cases so that your rights may be adequately protected.