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New Jersey Supreme Court Allows Suit Against Homeowners Associations

In a case that may have far-reaching repercussions throughout New Jersey, the state Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a resident of a condominium community can sue a homeowners association for injuries resulting from a slip-and-fall on an icy sidewalk. The trial court and an appellate court had maintained that the homeowners association could not be joined as a defendant in the action, but the Supreme Court reversed, declaring that the homeowners association’s ownership of the sidewalk was the key issue.

Cuiyun Qian, an elderly resident, had slipped on the icy sidewalk in December of 2008, injuring her wrist and shoulder. She sued numerous defendants: the developer, the management company, the landscape contractor and the homeowners association. The trial court ruled that the homeowners association was immune from the claim, since the sidewalks within the community “functioned like the public sidewalks of any residential development.”

There exists in the law a concept of residential public-sidewalk immunity, which protects municipalities and private landowners from liability for the deterioration of sidewalks. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, saying that “immunity does not apply in the case of a sidewalk privately owned by a common-interest community.”

A key factor in this determination was the homeowners associations’ control over the sidewalk. In fact, Qian had shown that the homeowners association had failed to contact the landscape contractor, with whom it had contracted for snow and ice removal, to request salt after ice had accumulated over several days in December 2008 prior to Ms. Qian’s fall.

We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision for upholding the upholding the basic principle of premises liability law: that property owners must be held accountable for negligence. If residents cannot sue homeowners associations who have charge of maintenance, there is no way to enforce the duty to maintain the property. The Supreme Court got this ruling right, and it should benefit residents throughout the state who have been victims of unaccountable property management.

If you’ve been hurt in a slip and fall at a condominium complex or any other premises, an experienced New Jersey personal injury lawyer from Brown, Novick & McKinley can help. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 866-942-4909 or contact us online.