On June 10, 2021, the Supreme Court of New Jersey put an end to conflicting decisions in the lower courts regarding the “ongoing storm rule” when it reversed the Appellate Division’s decision in Pareja v. Princeton International Properties, Docket No. A-2111-18T3. GRSLBG&B’s previously reported on the Appellate Division’s decision in Pareja, Weathering the Storm: The “Ongoing Storm” Rule No Longer A Defense in NJ Slip and Fall Cases (For Now!), which can be found here. In general, a commercial property owner has a duty to take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting its property reasonably safe, including from ice and snow. An exception to this is the “ongoing storm” rule which provides that “commercial landowners do not have a duty to remove the accumulation of snow and ice until the conclusion of the storm.”
In Pareja, plaintiff slipped and fell on black ice on the driveway apron while walking to work. The conditions at the time of his fall were described as “drizzling sleet,” i.e. a continuing storm. The owner-defendant filed for summary judgment claiming it had no duty to maintain its sidewalks during an ongoing storm. The trial court agreed and granted the owner summary judgment. The Appellate Court reversed summary judgment and rejected the ongoing storm defense finding that it arbitrarily relieved commercial landowners from any obligation to render their property safe while precipitation is falling. The landowner then appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the Appellate Division’s decision and rejected the court’s articulation of the commercial landowner’s duty of ordinary and reasonable care. In doing so, 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.” They further opined that the duty imposed by the Appellate Division to take reasonable steps to clear a walkway during an ongoing storm fails to “consider the size, resources and ability of individual commercial landowners or recognize that what may be reasonable for larger commercial landowners may not be reasonable-or even possible- for smaller ones.” The Supreme Court declined to impose a duty that could not be adhered to by all landowners.
Despite adoption of the ongoing storm rule as a defense, the Supreme Court found that two unusual circumstances may warrant removal of snow and ice before the cessation of a storm: (1) if the commercial landowner’s actions increase the risk to pedestrians and invitees on their property or (2) if there is a pre-existing risk on the premises before the storm.
Overall, the Court’s decision in Pareja is significant to commercial landowners and property managers as it puts an end to the uncertainty concerning the applicability of the ongoing storm defense and places New Jersey in line with neighboring states such as New York and Pennsylvania. As recognized by the Court, requiring a landowner to remediate snow and ice while a storm is continuing can be arbitrary and impractical. Presumably, this may lead to a decrease in lawsuits involving slip and fall accidents during inclement weather or at least, provide property owners and carriers a strong defense to these claims. However, commercial owners should be mindful of the exceptions cited by the Court and avoid increasing any risk to pedestrians, such as forcing invitees to park far away from the premises or failing to clear the premises from a prior storm.
 Deborah J. Banfield, Esq. is Counsel to GRSLBG&B’s Litigation Department. She defends a wide variety of clients in various civil actions brought forth in New Jersey State and Federal Courts. Deborah can be reached at DBanfield@grsl.com.
 Loudie V. Srebnick, Esq. is an Associate in GRSLBG&B’s Litigation Department. She defends a wide variety of clients in various civil actions brought forth in New Jersey and New York State and Federal Courts. Loudie can be reached at LSrebnick@grsl.com.