Expansion of Ongoing Snow Storm Defense
In Quiles v. Hector, No. A-0023-16 (App. Div. Jan. 19, 2018) the plaintiff went to a pizzeria to pick up something for dinner. When she arrived at the pizzeria, there had been about one inch of snow, and when she left the pizzeria, she said it was snowing and slippery. Plaintiff left the pizzeria to deliver a pizza for a friend who worked there. Plaintiff was to deliver a pizza to a tenant in the defendant’s commercial apartment complex and fell after slipping on a sidewalk with snow on it.
While there is longstanding precedent that commercial property owners have a duty to use reasonable care to maintain abutting sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition, including the removal of ice and snow, the Appellate Division held in Quiles that such a duty does not require sidewalks to be free of ice and snow while the snow storm is ongoing as it is unreasonable, as a matter of law. Id. slip. op. 12. Moreover, property owners must be afforded a reasonable time to remove the snow and ice following the snow storm. Id. In Quiles v. Hector.
On May 2, 2019, the Appellate Division in Dixon v. HC Equities Associates, LP, No. A-5756-17 (App. Div. May 2 2019) seemingly expanded the application of Quiles. In Dixon, the plaintiff left work during a snow storm to go home and slipped and fell on ice outside of the building. Plaintiff testified there was snow on the sidewalk; she was wearing her boots and making tracks in the snow, and she was walking very slowly when she found herself “in the air and coming down.” Id. at 3. At the conclusion of discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing it owed no duty to remove the snow and ice until a reasonable time had passed following the snow storm. Defendant relied on Quiles in support of its position. The trial judge granted summary judgment, reasoning no rational factfinder could find defendant negligent as plaintiff fell during the ongoing snow storm.
On appeal, the plaintiff in Dixon argued that Quiles did not apply because Dixon was not permitted to leave work early, attempting to distinguish the fact that in Quiles, the plaintiff voluntarily entered defendant’s premises as opposed to Dixon wherein the plaintiff was required to stay at work and only allowed to leave at 7:00PM – a point later in time as snow continued to accrue during the storm. The trial judge found that Dixon could leave her job at any time – she may just not get paid for time missed – and she was not being forced to stay at work. On appeal, the Court in Dixon found that “precedent makes no distinction between voluntarily being on a premises versus working when it comes to the issue of snow removal.” Dixon, slip. op. at 12-13. The Court further held the standard is to afford a defendant a reasonable amount of time to remove the snow following the storm, regardless of such a distinction. Id. at 15.
It should be noted that both Quiles and Dixon are unpublished and can only be considered persuasive authority, but both reasoning in support of the decisions are sound and provide favorable holdings in the defense of lawsuits for slip and falls during snow storms.
The law is complex in this area, and you should be guided accordingly and made aware of the proper procedures to protect you and your business or companies during winter conditions. If you have questions or concerns that affect you, your employees, or your business, contact us at (732) 545-4717.