Any time a person is involved in a New Jersey Slip-and-Fall Accident on another’s property, complicated legal issues can arise. Questions regarding the extent of Serious Injuries, maintenance standards, and an owner’s duty to warn of dangerous conditions can have a significant impact on a Personal Injury victim’s right to seek damages.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently considered a case involving a slip-and-fall injury sustained in an abandoned building. In Rowe v. Mazel Thirty, LLC, the court held that a policeman who slipped and fell while on patrol should be able to argue his claim that the property owner’s negligence led to his injuries.

Determining Whether a Landlord Is Liable for Premises Negligence

East Orange police officer Willie Rowe was hurt while participating in a department “Safe Block” patrol when he slipped down a basement apartment stairway after cement surfacing on the steps broke free. Due to the leg injuries he suffered in the stairway fall, he was no longer able to work as a police officer.

Officer Rowe sued the landlord for negligence, claiming that the property owner had carelessly maintained the premises and owed him a duty to warn of the dangerous condition of the stairway.

The landlord had received prior notice from the city building department of the building’s condition, and Officer Rowe had entered the building and basement on a previous occasion.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the landlord, concluding based on undisputed facts that the officer was owed no duty to warn of dangerous premises. The Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision, noting that Officer Rowe’s prior visit substantiated his awareness of the hazardous stairway.

Invitee, Licensee or Trespasser: The Plaintiff’s Status Makes a Difference

Under New Jersey premises liability law, the duty owed to a visitor varies depending on whether he or she was invited onto the property (such as a business customer), had permission to be on the property (a licensee or social guest), or was a trespasser without permission to be on the property. Not surprisingly, the duty to invitees is highest, and obligations are much lower with respect to trespassers.

The state Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts, holding that Officer Rowe was a licensee who was entitled to a warning of dangers from the landowner.

The most important aspect of this holding was a clear statement that law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other emergency responders can never have a status lower than licensee when entering a property in performance of their duties.

In conclusion, the court held that summary judgment was inappropriate, because a factual issue remained regarding the officer’s awareness of the defective condition of the steps, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

By considering the latest legal developments,  our lawyers can advise clients of their likely prospects for success in premises liability lawsuits.