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Homeowners’ Associations and Liability

October 7, 2015 | Posted In Personal Injury/Negligence - Personal Injury

A recent decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that condominium homeowners’ associations can be held responsible for any injuries sustained by people walking on an associations’ poorly-maintained sidewalks. The court’s ruling emphasized that liability is assigned to the person or entity that owns the sidewalk -- not the person using the sidewalk.

In their ruling, the state Supreme Court overturned two rulings from the lower courts that had previously excused the condominium association from liability. Justice Barry Albin wrote in the court’s decision that “residential sidewalk immunity does not apply in the case of a sidewalk privately owned by a common-interest community” like the condominium association.

Qian v. Toll Brothers

In December of 2008, the plaintiff, Cuiyan Qian, slipped and fell on a patch of ice on the sidewalks in her development, the Villas at Cranbury Brook. She had been walking to the grocery store shortly after a freezing rain, and the development had not yet cleared the ice from the sidewalks. She sued the residence association, which is designated for residents ages 55 and older, for her injuries.

The homeowners’ association for the Villas retained the services of Integra Management Corp. for all property maintenance. Integra, in turn, hired Landscape Maintenance Services (LMS) to clear the sidewalks of ice and snow during the winter.

According to their contract, LMS would clear any snow or ice of two inches or more automatically, and any snow accumulation less than two inches would require additional payment and specific request from the homeowners’ association. The association did not request that LMS clear the ice on the day Qian fell.

A trial judge and the Appellate Division applied the Supreme Court ruling from Luchejko v. Hoboken (a 2011 case), which states that the condominium association had no responsibility to maintain the public sidewalks bordering their property. However, the state Supreme Court pointed to the association’s bylaws, which stated that the association would be responsible for maintaining any common areas, including the sidewalk on which Qian slipped.

Additionally, the Condominium Act (N.J.S.A. 46:8B-14(a)) requires homeowners’ associations to maintain common-interest property like the sidewalks within the development. Under the Act, homeowners’ associations must also have liability insurance. By handing the responsibility over to associations, the Act intends to reduce liability and avoidable accidents, Justice Albin said in the Court’s decision.

Residential Right to Safety

One of the main draws for people living in communities with homeowners’ associations is the community's responsibility to take care of shared grounds, such as sidewalks and lawn space. Residents in communities like the Villas at Cranbury Brook pay for the luxury of such care, and if the association fails to uphold its end of the agreement, injuries can happen.

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone who has been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence or lack of attention. For more information regarding your rights as a resident of a community with a homeowners’ association, contact the New Jersey slip and fall lawyers at HCK today.

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