These rules are much, much different. There’s an entire section of our law called the Tort Claims Act, which is within our statutes. There is an entire book on when you can bring claims against public entities. It’s very complex. It’s very difficult to bring up a claim against a public entity.
In general, assuming you’ve given notice to them pursuant to their requirements, you may bring a claim against them for a dangerous condition on property assuming that their action or inaction was palpably unreasonable.
There’s a lot of legal gobbledygook involved here. It is what you can call ‘palpably unreasonable’. What that essentially means is that no one would do it that way. The condition is very obvious and they failed to rectify it or make it safe.
You have to prove a much higher standard before they’re responsible to you, and the injury must be much more severe. It must generally be a permanent injury that can be proven by objective standards, and it’s actually quite technical. But minor bumps and bruises are never going to be a claim against a public entity.
A commercial land owner is responsible, and may have a duty to inspect their property and make sure it’s safe. An extension of that is it’s reasonable to expect that in our climate there will be snow and ice in the winter, and that means you have to be prudent to take the appropriate steps to make your property safe.
That means shoveling all the sidewalks and all the stairs; all the entrances have to be clear. Salt should be put down, and the weather should be monitored to make sure you’re taking all the appropriate steps to keep your property safe for people, either passing by or coming into the structure or leaving the structure.
With regard to a homeowner, they really don’t have a duty to go around inspecting their property; however, they really should repair a known defect with regular maintenance. But if you’re a trespasser for example on a private property, generally a homeowner doesn’t owe you very much, if anything. If you’re a social guest they certainly owe you to make the property safe for known conditions.
If you’ve been invited for dinner, they really should shovel their front walk. It’s a little bit different on the walkway that is along the street. They have very little responsibility for that.
If you’re working and you’ve been invited to the property to repair something; you’re an electrician coming into the house to fix a light fixture and you slip and fall on the way in because the land owner didn’t shovel their front steps, you’d be responsible. You’d probably have a higher duty of care than in just a social setting.
These are old standards largely replaced by the word foreseeability. Was an accident foreseeable? The old standards were social guest, business invitee, and trespasser. These were the three categories that you could be placed in if you were hurt on a piece of property.
While those standards are not the current state of the law, most judges still look to those theories to understand whether it was foreseeable that you were injured in an accident.
This varies state by state. New Jersey is a comparative negligence state. It means is that the jury will determine what your percentage of responsibility is, and if you’re slightly more at fault than the person that you’re suing, you don’t get paid anything. That means if you’re 51% responsible for your own accident, you lose.
In New Jersey, it’s important to know how and why you fell, and that begins right at the moment you fall and right afterwards, making sure you understand how you’ve fallen and gather the facts that demonstrate that.
You may be found, for example, only 10% responsible for your accident. Remember, you are responsible for awareness of your surroundings, proper footwear, and walking carefully at all times. Young ladies should not be wearing very high heels when there’s ice and snow out, and yet if they are, the jury would be asked to find a higher percentage of responsibility in them.
So it’s always prudent to be dressed properly. All these things that you’ve learned as kids, they’re important, and the jury will be asked to consider them in deciding how much responsible you are for your accident.
Likewise, the land owner or commercial property owner or the defendant, is not responsible for the rain, and there is nothing that they can do to control the rain, and if the rain played a part in your fall, they would assess more responsibility on you because that’s certainly not the responsibility of the owner.
In the case of multiple defendants, there are more rules regarding what percentage of responsibility they must achieve in order to receive full compensation. But these all come under the heading comparative negligence.
When talking about contributory negligence, at least in New Jersey, it’s an older term. It means if you were partially responsible for your own accident, you wouldn’t get paid at all, and this of course changed with the comparative negligence laws where you must be no more than 50% responsible for your own accident.
If you’ve had too much to drink that could be found to be a factor why you fell. If you were running when you shouldn’t have been running, if you were overloaded with packages and trying to climb stairs, if you weren’t paying attention, if you tripped over your own feet, and many more such things can result in an accident.
You might not see a sign that was prominently displayed. There’re so many things that influence how you could be partially at fault. It’s all fact-sensitive, of course.
These are scary situations and a very difficult area of defense.
The laws in New Jersey have been changing a little bit. At least up to now, you’d have much more difficulty proving that the defendant or the owner of the machines, the elevator or the escalator, didn’t properly maintain them.
You also have a much more difficult task of getting maintenance records and perhaps interviewing other individuals to find out what the history of problems with the escalator or elevator was. You have to search inspection records. You have to identify who was responsible for maintenance.
It’s a much more difficult case in such situations because it is not assumed, generally, that because you were injured, that is the responsibility of the owner. It’s a much tougher case. Not to say it can’t be done, but there’s much more to do and to nail down prior to being able to offer an opinion that they’re responsible to you.
If you need information on Who Can Be Held Liable In Slip & Fall Accidents On Different Properties, 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.