Clark & Fox Attorneys Prevail in New Jersey Appellate Court Personal Injury Case Holding That Homeowners Are Not Responsible to Maintain Adjacent Sidewalk
On December 5, 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the Trial Court’s grant of Summary Judgment on behalf of Clark & Fox’s clients, Mark and Anthony Severino, who were sued in the case of Cardenas v. Severino, et al., in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County, Docket No. L-3835-16.
The attorneys of Clark & Fox successfully established that the Trial Court correctly held that the Severinos, as residential property owners, were not responsible to maintain the sidewalk adjacent to their property and the Trial Court properly granted summary judgment as a matter of law.
This matter stems from an alleged trip and fall on the sidewalk in front of the Severinos’ property. Plaintiff sued Mark and Anthony Severino and claimed that her injuries were due to their failure to maintain the sidewalk in a safe condition. On the date of Plaintiff’s alleged accident, the Severinos owned a vacant, two family home located in Bergen County, New Jersey.
TRIAL COURT, Docket No. L-3835-16
The attorneys of Clark & Fox vigorously defended Mark and Anthony Severino against Plaintiff’s claims. Following discovery, Clark & Fox filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on behalf of the Severinos and argued that the Severinos did not owe a duty to Plaintiff because the property was not used for commercial purposes at the time of Plaintiff’s accident, and under well-settled law, residential property owners cannot be held liable for a defective sidewalk.
Plaintiff opposed the Motion for Summary Judgment and alleged that at the time of the accident the property was commercial because the property had the capacity to generate income and, as such, the Severinos owed Plaintiff a duty. In support of the position that the property was commercial, Plaintiff stressed that the property was under renovation at the time of Plaintiff’s accident and was rented out after Plaintiff’s accident.
Summary Judgment is only granted where there are no genuine disputes of fact. In ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment, the court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, here the Plaintiff. Despite this high standard, the Trial Court found that the undisputed facts demonstrated that at no time before the accident had the property generated income and at no time before the accident had the Severinos sought to generate income. The Trial Court further found that the Severinos did not owe Plaintiff a duty given the lack of commercial use in any fashion prior to Plaintiff’s accident.
THE APPELLATE DIVISION, Docket No. A-1262-18T4
In her appeal, Plaintiff argued that in line with Gray v. Caldwell Wood Products, Inc., 425 N.J. Super 496 (App. Div. 2012), the property had the capacity to generate income because the Severinos could have leased the property upon purchasing the property. Additionally, Plaintiff argued that the property was commercial because Severinos granted access to their friends, family and a contractor to perform renovations at the property and should be subject to liability as envisioned in Gray. Plaintiff further argued that commercial sidewalk liability should attach because tenants moved into Severinos’ property after the accident. Finally, Plaintiff argued that because Severinos maintained commercial general liability insurance, commercial sidewalk liability should be imposed.
The Appellate Division concluded that the Trial Court properly granted summary judgment to Defendants because the record established “that the property was not being used for a commercial purpose and was not intended to be used in that capacity at the time of plaintiff’s accident.” In the 9-page opinion, the Appellate Division stated that it previously made it clear that “sidewalk liability turns on the status of the property at the time of the accident in question.” Briglia v. Mondrian Mortg. Corp., 304 N.J. Super. 77, 82 (App. Div. 1997). Finally, the Appellate Division found no merit to Plaintiff’s argument that the property should be considered commercial because it was capable of being rented at the time of Plaintiff’s accident.
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