New Jersey Has Weathered the Storm… Supreme Court Adopts the Ongoing Storm Doctrine

On June 10, 2021, the Supreme Court of New Jersey rendered its opinion in the much-anticipated case of Pareja v. Princeton International Properties, clarifying that “commercial property owners do not have a duty to remove snow and ice until the conclusion of the storm.” This case solidifies New Jersey Court’s position regarding the ongoing storm doctrine.

In April 2020, the Appellate Division held that “after actual or constructive notice” commercial landowners have a duty “to act in a reasonably prudent manner to remove or reduce the foreseeable hazard.” Pareja v. Princeton Int’l Props., 463 N.J. Super. 231, 251 (App. Div. 2020).

In Pareja, the Plaintiff slipped and fell while walking to work. At the time of the accident, light pockets of snow and freezing rain were falling. Plaintiff brought suit against the property manager and the snow removal contractor. Both the manager and the contractor moved for summary judgment in the trial Court. The trial Court granted both summary judgment motions. Plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court. The Appellate Court reversed and rejected the ongoing storm rule, holding that the property manager had a duty to maintain the sidewalk even when the storm was ongoing.

Overturning the appellate opinion, the Supreme Court recognized that it “is categorically inexpedient and impractical to remove or reduce hazards from snow and ice while the precipitation is ongoing.” Additionally, the Supreme Court found that the Appellate Division did not consider the size, resources, and ability of individual commercial landowners. The Supreme Court further explained that what may be reasonable for larger commercial landowners may not be reasonable—or even possible—for smaller ones.

While the Supreme Court adopted the ongoing storm rule, it made clear that commercial landowners still have a duty to remove snow and ice within a reasonable time after the storm concludes. See Qian v. Toll Bros., Inc., 223 N.J. 124, 135 (2015).

The Court enunciated two exceptions to the ongoing storm rule that could impose a duty for commercial landowners. First, “if their actions increase the risk to pedestrians and invitees on their property,” such as creating “unusual circumstances that exacerbate the risk of injury.” Second, landowners may be liable “where there was a pre-existing risk on the premises before the storm,” such as by failing to remove snow from a previous storm.

If you have questions about the ongoing storm rule in New Jersey or a slip and fall accident happened on your property during a winter weather event, please contact Joseph V. Leone, Esq. at jleone@hoaglandlongo.com or Joshua A. Filzer, Esq. at jfilzer@hoaglandlongo.com.