There are vast differences in the responsibility owed to individuals by private property owners, residential homeowners as opposed to commercial land owners and public entities, which would be anything that a local or a state or a county government might own.
In the case of commercial land owners, they’re completely responsible for defective conditions on their sidewalks if they don’t maintain them, level them, fill holes or cracks in them, clear snow and ice on them or they do not take care of their dangerous doorways or stairwells. They’re always responsible for these things.
However, residential homeowners are not responsible for their sidewalks and snow on their sidewalks, even when there are local laws compelling the land owners to remove the snow. It’s very difficult to bring a claim against a residential homeowner for an accident, which occurs on their sidewalks when someone’s walking past their dwelling.
Public entities also have their own very special rules. In New Jersey, they have a whole set of laws called the Tort Claims Act, which sets a tremendous amount of additional requirements for the state or public entities. It begins with issuing them a Tort Claims Notice within first 90 days of the fall in most circumstances.
Of course there are variations on that depending upon the person’s age or circumstances, but the more common defective premises or slip and fall or trip and fall accidents we see are either on commercial properties or private properties. Again, these rules differ depending upon the nature of the property.
In New Jersey and in many places, it’s all about foreseeability. Was it foreseeable that you would have been injured in that situation?
If there’s a large barrier set up on a sidewalk that’s with signs saying walk around and you don’t walk around and you walk straight into it and get hurt, then it might not be foreseeable that you did that. You are responsible for your own safety as well, so you must be careful in all of your activities during the day and you must watch where you’re going. If there’s a safer path to take, take it. If something appears very dangerous then certainly don’t go there.
People are always responsible for their actions, and then the responsibility that is conferred on the land owners varies, whether it’s commercial or private or public. If there is a trespasser and they climbed a barbed wire fence and got hurt on the way over the fence, it’s pretty clear that no one would be responsible to them if that area is prohibited and they were trying to go there. That’s an obvious.
It all is fact-sensitive. What happened, how, and who are you trying to bring the claim against?
This is a complex area. A landlord, who owns a dwelling unit with more than five dwellings, is automatically held to the highest standard, but if it’s a homeowner that merely rents out a room, then it’s a little bit different.
The duty or responsibility that they have to you is a little less in those circumstances, and it’s even less to a guest of that home. If you’re invited to dinner by the homeowner and you fall due to a dangerous condition on their front stairs that they are unaware of, there’s no responsibility there. If they were aware of the dangerous condition and they didn’t fix it, then it might be a different story.
When talking about the nature of homeowner and landlord, these things can be quite different. Just a single family or even a two family home is certainly much different than an apartment building where the landlord in an apartment building is responsible for everything. It is responsible to make reasonable inspection to find defective conditions, to fix them, or to clear snow and ice.
However, it isn’t quite the same with a private residence or even someone who rents out a room in their home, or perhaps rents out the other side of a two family home. Every situation’s going to be slightly different, and your attorney will have to hit the books to make sure they’re exactly correct in what the responsibility that is owed to you.
However, before they do that, they really need to know the facts because everything comes down to the facts of what happened, how you fell, how you can prove it, and what is the condition. These things begin on day one and if you come to the attorney a month or two after the accident and you do not know how you fell, it will be very difficult for them to obtain facts from what happened two months earlier.
If you need information on When A Property Owner Is Held Liable For An Injury Caused On Their Property, call the law office of David Maran for a free initial consultation at (973) 622-5303 and get the information and legal answers you’re seeking.