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Municipal ordinance imposing a duty of care on property owner to maintain abutting public sidewalk does not automatically create a duty of care owed by property owner to a third party injured on the same sidewalk.

January 1, 2019
Reinhardt v. Gornowski, No. A-1395-17, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2582 (App. Div. Nov. 26, 2018) (per curiam)

The plaintiff claimed the defendant negligently maintained the public sidewalk abutting her property, which caused her to fall and suffer personal injuries. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged the sidewalk abutting the defendant’s property was uneven due to a tree root from a tree the defendant had planted on his front lawn. The defendant claimed he had only ever planted trees in his backyard. The motion judge granted summary judgment for the defendant, finding there was no evidence he planted a tree on his front lawn and the plaintiff’s theory of liability was speculative. The New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed, agreeing it is “well established” that the municipal ordinance at issue here was meant to ease the burden of local government, not to protect individual members of the public. Thus, where an ordinance imposes a duty of care in one realm, we, as defense counsel, must consider these policy reasons and argue the duty should be narrowly construed, as this case successfully demonstrates.


Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2019

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