Commercial Landowners No Longer Have an Absolute Duty to Clear Snow and Ice Hazards During an Ongoing Storm – by Douglas Sanchez

Footprints in snowIn the recent case of Pareja v. Princeton International Properties, the New Jersey Supreme Court expressly adopted the ongoing storm doctrine, which holds that commercial landowners do not have a duty to remove snow and ice on their property until the precipitation has ended. The Supreme Court ruled that “it is categorically inexpedient and impractical to remove and reduce hazards from snow and ice while the precipitation is ongoing.” The ruling allows for two limited exceptions: cases where the commercial property owner takes affirmative action that increases risk to pedestrians or invitees (generally seen where a landowner begins clearing snow that subsequently refreezes before the end of a storm); and, cases where the hazard which caused the plaintiff to fall is the consequence of a pre-existing condition.

In the Pareja case, the plaintiff was walking to work when he slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk that was owned and managed by defendant Princeton International Properties, Inc. The night before, a wintry mix of light rain, freezing rain, and sleet began to fall. Notably, around the time of his fall, light rain and pockets of freezing rain were falling. The Pareja Court held that “commercial landowners do not have the absolute duty, and the impossible burden, to keep sidewalks on their property free from snow or ice during an ongoing storm.” The Court concluded that “Princeton International did not owe Pareja a duty to clear the snow and ice during the storm, and there were no unusual circumstances that would otherwise create such a duty.”  The Pareja Court agreed with the premise of the ongoing storm rule. The Pareja Court found that “absent unusual circumstances, a commercial landowner’s duty to remove snow and ice hazards arises not during the storm, but rather within a reasonable time after the storm.”

The Pareja decision is important because it establishes that commercial landowners have a duty to remove snow and ice hazards within a reasonable time after the storm, not while there is active precipitation. Moreover, many municipalities set forth by code the number of hours a landowner has to remediate snow and ice after precipitation ends. The Supreme Court overturned the Appellate Division’s assertion that negligence in circumstances surrounding ongoing snowfall should be decided by a jury, not the Court. Instead, the Supreme Court found that commercial landowners are no longer required to clear snow or ice hazards created by active precipitation and the Court may grant summary judgment if the facts allow for the application of the ongoing storm doctrine.