Trip and fall accidents on sidewalks happen quite frequently, and they happen all year round. They happen in the winter when there is snow/ice on the sidewalk, and they happen in the spring and summer when there is debris, such as tree branches on the sidewalk.
Tripping hazards, such as debris and tree branches, often cover sidewalks after a storm. High winds from storms and hurricanes often cause the tree branches to break and scatter all over sidewalks.
Therefore, after the storm passes, it is the property owners' responsibility to clear the debris on public sidewalks abutting the property. For commercial property owners who open for business after the storm, it is especially important that they make sure the sidewalks do not pose any danger or have tripping hazards that can cause pedestrians to trip and fall.
In New Jersey, it is well established that commercial property owners owe a duty to maintain a public sidewalk abutting their property in reasonably good condition and are held liable for pedestrians injured as a result of their negligent failure to do so. Stewart v. 104 Wallace Street, Inc.
Therefore, if you are a pedestrian on a sidewalk abutting a commercial property and trip and fall as a result of debris or branches, the commercial owner may be held liable for your accident.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that it is not reasonable to expect commercial owners to remove the debris as soon as the storm passes. For example, if a pedestrian falls and injures himself an hour after the storm passes, it may not be reasonable to expect the debris to be cleared since the storm just passed. In that case, the commercial owner will probably not be liable.
On the other hand, if the debris stays on the sidewalk for 3 days after the business opens and after the storm passes, the commercial property owner will probably be found liable for injuries caused to a pedestrian who trips on the tree branches. It can be argued that the property owner should have removed the branches in those 3 days. Some cities may even have local ordinances that state the length of time property owners have to remove the debris.
If you tripped and fell on a New Jersey public sidewalk because of debris or tripping hazards that should not have been on the sidewalk and would like to explore your legal options, talk to one of the personal injury lawyers at White and Williams LLP.
Daniel J. O'Brien and his team have helped many trip and fall victims in New Jersey and will answer all of your questions and concerns. 877.944.8396