Until recently, commercial property owners and commercial tenants that are responsible for snow and ice removal, could rely on the “storm in progress” doctrine which allows persons and entities handling snow and ice removal, a reasonable time to respond to a weather event following completion of a storm. There are number of unpublished New Jersey court decisions which conclude that because it is impractical to prevent snow and ice from accumulating during a storm, it is unfair to require a property owner or tenant to engage in remediation efforts until completion of the storm.
On April 9, 2020, the New Jersey Appellate Division questioned and rejected the storm in progress doctrine in Pareja v. Princeton Int’l Props, which favored a “multi factor” approach in assessing personal injury cases arising from snow or ice. The court found that rather than adopting a bright line rule which gives property owners a reasonable time to respond to a storm following its completion, a property owner’s response to a weather event should be measured by a number of factors including the timing of the storm (day or night), whether the facility was opened or closed, the number of individuals expected to use the property during the storm, other means of ingress or egress and the extent of the precipitation. In so doing, the court has upended how property owners handle snow storms by requiring them to pre-treat their properties before a storm and to engage in remediation efforts during the storm. In so ruling, Pareja did not measure or address the financial impact of its decision on commercial property owners. The case is being appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Maintaining commercial property to prevent injuries is a constant battle. It is imperative that commercial property owners and tenants understand their obligations.