On June 10, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court rendered its decision on Angel Alberto Pareja v. Princeton International Properties, (A-4-20) which is the first New Jersey Supreme Court decision since 1983 to opine on a commercial property owners’ duty to conduct snow and ice removal during an ongoing winter weather event. In doing so, it fully incorporated the “Ongoing Storm” doctrine into New Jersey jurisprudence, permitting commercial property owners a reasonable time after completion of a winter weather event to begin snow and ice removal. The premise of the “Ongoing Storm” doctrine is that it is “categorically inexpedient and impractical” to remove or reduce hazards from snow and ice while the precipitation is ongoing.
Defendant Princeton International Properties appealed to the Supreme Court from the judgment of the Appellate Division, which reversed a Law Division order of summary judgment in favor of defendant. In Pareja, plaintiff was walking to work when he slipped and fell on ice on a sidewalk on property owned and managed by defendant and suffered a broken hip. The night prior to plaintiff's accident, a mix of freezing rain and sleet began, with the precipitation still falling at the time of plaintiff's fall. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, but the trial court granted summary judgment for defendant due to the ongoing nature of the storm. The appellate division reversed the grant of summary judgment, ruling that defendant had a duty of care to maintain the sidewalk even when precipitation was still falling. In so ruling, the Appellate Division rejected defendant’s contention that it did not have to engage in snow or ice removal prior to completion of the storm.
The New Jersey Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Fernandez-Vina, ruled that commercial landowners do not have the “impossible burden” to keep sidewalks on a property free from snow or ice during an ongoing storm. In doing so, the Court recognized that imposing a reasonableness standard to snow and ice removal during an ongoing storm, as the Appellate Division had done, would submit every commercial landowner to litigation, even when it may not have been feasible to provide guidance as to what should have been done. The Court held that “absent unusual circumstances,” a commercial landowner’s duty to remove snow and ice hazards arises not during the storm, but within a reasonable time after the storm has ended. The Court took particular note that four neighboring states, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania, all with similar climates to New Jersey’s, have similarly adopted the “Ongoing Storm” rule with respect to commercial property owners.
The Court did note exceptions to the rule, such as when a commercial landlord exacerbates the risk of injury to plaintiffs, or where there was a pre-existing risk on the premises before the storm.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Albin (joined by Justice Pierre-Lewis) argued for rejecting the ongoing storm rule and adhering to a reasonableness standard, noting that while snow and ice removal might not be practical in severe storms, it would be possible for a commercial landowner to remove snow and ice during light precipitation.