Pareja v. Princeton Int'l Props.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Citation246 N.J. 546,252 A.3d 184
Docket NumberA-4 September Term 2020,084394
Parties Angel Alberto PAREJA, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. PRINCETON INTERNATIONAL PROPERTIES and Lowe's Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance, LLC, Defendants, and Princeton International Properties, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Lowe's Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance, LLC, Third-Party Defendants.
Decision Date10 June 2021

246 N.J. 546
252 A.3d 184

Angel Alberto PAREJA, Plaintiff-Respondent,
PRINCETON INTERNATIONAL PROPERTIES and Lowe's Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance, LLC, Defendants,
Princeton International Properties, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff-Appellant,
Lowe's Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance, LLC, Third-Party Defendants.

A-4 September Term 2020

Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Argued February 1, 2021
Decided June 10, 2021

William S. Bloom argued the cause for appellant (Methfessel & Werbel, attorneys; William S. Bloom, Edison, of counsel and on the briefs, and James V. Mazewski, Bridgewater, on the briefs).

David P. Corvasce argued the cause for respondent (Garces, Grabler & Lebrocq, attorneys; David E. Rehe, New Brunswick, on the brief).

Mark R. Scirocco argued the cause for amicus curiae New Jersey Defense Association (Law Offices of Robert A. Scirocco, attorneys; Mark R. Scirocco, on the brief).

Eric G. Kahn argued the cause for amicus curiae New Jersey Association for Justice (Javerbaum Wurgaft Hicks Kahn Wikstrom & Sinins, attorneys; Eric G. Kahn, Springfield, and Annabelle M. Steinhacker, of counsel and on the brief).

JUSTICE FERNANDEZ-VINA delivered the opinion of the Court.

252 A.3d 186
246 N.J. 548

This case calls on the Court to determine whether commercial landowners owe a duty to clear snow and ice from their property during a storm. For the first time, this Court considers the adoption of the ongoing storm rule, under which a landowner does not have a duty to remove snow or ice from public walkways until a reasonable time after the cessation of precipitation.

Angel Alberto Pareja was walking to work in the early morning hours when he slipped on ice and fell. It had been precipitating that morning in below freezing temperatures. The sidewalk area on which he fell was located on property owned and managed by Princeton International Properties, Inc. (Princeton International).

The trial court granted summary judgment to Princeton International, finding that the ongoing storm rule applied and that Princeton International therefore owed no duty to maintain its sidewalks during the precipitation. The Appellate Division reversed, rejecting the ongoing storm rule, and holding that Princeton International had a duty of reasonable care to maintain the sidewalk even when precipitation was falling. Pareja v. Princeton Int'l Props., 463 N.J. Super. 231, 235, 231 A.3d 751 (App. Div. 2020).

246 N.J. 549

We disagree with the Appellate Division's holding and decline to adopt the Appellate Division's articulation of the commercial landowner's duty of ordinary and reasonable care. Rather, we find that the standard established in our precedent supports the adoption of the ongoing storm rule. In addition to adopting the rule, we also recognize two exceptions that could impose a duty: if the owner's conduct increases the risk, or the danger is pre-existing.

Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Division.



We begin by summarizing the pertinent facts and procedural history. On January 12, 2015, around 8 a.m., Angel Alberto Pareja drove to work in light rain. He parked across the street from the building where he worked and walked along the sidewalk. Snow cleared from an earlier storm was piled up along the edges of the sidewalk. Pareja's path required him to walk over the driveway apron, the section of sidewalk that connects the driveway to the public road. That apron was owned by Princeton International. Temperatures that morning were below freezing, and, unable to see ice on the driveway apron due to the rain, Pareja stepped directly onto it, fell, and broke his hip.

The following details of the weather conditions for the morning of January 12 were established by consistent meteorology reports submitted by each party. The National Weather Service issued a Winter Weather Advisory the previous day, January 11, effective from 1 a.m. through 10 a.m. on January 12. Between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. on the morning of January 12, a wintry mix of light rain, freezing rain, and sleet began to fall at temperatures between thirty-three to thirty-four degrees. Between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., directly at and before the time of Pareja's fall, "light rain and pockets of freezing rain were falling," and the temperature was about thirty-two to thirty-three degrees.

246 N.J. 550

The parties’ reports differed, however, with respect to the location of the ice on which Pareja fell. The report presented by Pareja concluded that the icy condition was isolated, while the report presented by Princeton International concluded that the

252 A.3d 187

icy condition was found area-wide as a product of the ongoing freezing rain.

Neither Princeton International's maintenance supervisor, Sam Alizio, nor its vice president, Arieh Feigenbaum, could specifically recall whether the corporation had pre-treated the sidewalks that day. Given that the property contains two apartments and two offices, the corporation would generally prepare for storms in that way. It employs Lowe's Landscaping & Lawn Maintenance, LLC (Lowe's Landscaping), for snow and ice removal services including plowing, snow removal, salting, and pre-treatment.

Alizio was responsible for ensuring that snow removal services were being performed adequately after a storm, and he would direct further services if inspection revealed deficiencies in the snow removal. Alizio stated that he was near the property on the morning of January 12 and had noticed the slippery conditions, but he could not remember if Lowe's Landscaping had treated the sidewalks. And while Feigenbaum would generally watch the Weather Channel and alert Lowe's Landscaping of expected storms so they could address any wintry conditions, he did not recall informing Lowe's Landscaping about the conditions on that day.

In an engineering report of the accident presented by Pareja, an expert opined that Princeton International could have successfully reduced the hazardous icy condition by pre-treating the sidewalk with standard anti-icing and de-icing materials. The expert stated, first, that Princeton International "knew or should have known" about the Winter Weather Advisory that was in effect because it was issued more than twenty-four hours before the accident. Second, the expert concluded that the sidewalk was in a "hazardous condition" on the day of the accident due to untreated ice on the surface. And finally, the expert concluded

246 N.J. 551

that Princeton International failed to use anti-icing, de-icing, or abrasive materials such as sand to make the sidewalk safe.

Pareja's engineering expert also addressed a local ordinance for the Borough of Princeton, section 28-16, which requires landowners to remove snow and ice from sidewalks -- defined in the ordinance to "include the paved area between the curb and right-of-way line at driveways commonly known as a ‘driveway apron.’ " The ordinance specifically provides for the removal of snow and ice within twenty-four hours of the conclusion of the hazard-causing precipitation. When such removal is impractical, it requires the owner to thoroughly cover the area with sand, ashes, or rock salt. The report explained that nothing in the ordinance addressed the responsibility of the landowner before the cessation of the precipitation.


Pareja filed a complaint against Princeton International, which then filed a third-party complaint against Lowe's Landscaping. Pareja later amended his complaint to additionally bring a claim against Lowe's Landscaping.

Both Lowe's Landscaping and Princeton International moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted Lowe's Landscaping's unopposed motion, noting that there was no basis for imposing liability. It also granted Princeton International's motion, finding that Princeton International did not owe a duty to Pareja.

The Appellate Division reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Princeton International, finding that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether Princeton International had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition and whether Princeton International

252 A.3d 188

had acted reasonably. Pareja, 463 N.J. Super. at 253-54, 231 A.3d 751. In doing so, the court rejected the ongoing storm rule. Instead, it held that "a commercial landowner has a duty to take reasonable steps to render a public walkway abutting its property -- covered by snow or ice -- reasonably safe, even when precipitation is falling."

246 N.J. 552

Id. at 251, 231 A.3d 751. The court clarified that such liability would arise "only if, after actual or constructive notice, [a commercial landowner] fails to act in a reasonably prudent manner to remove or reduce the foreseeable hazard." Ibid.

In determining whether to impose a duty of reasonable care on commercial landowners, the court engaged in an analysis of...

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