This winter has proven to be very difficult and trying here in New Jersey. As an attorney with a main office in
Jersey City, New Jersey who handles many accident cases, I have been busy fielding calls from many injured clients. For a lot of those clients, throughout Hudson (Jersey City, Bayonne, Hoboken, North Bergen, Union City), Bergen County and Essex County, those injuries were caused in part due to the cold and icy weather here. We are seeing more auto accidents in North Jersey due to the snow and ice and we certainly see more clients with broken bones due to falling on ice.
I have been to North Bergen, Secaucus, Union City and Bayonne in the last couple of weeks visiting and inspecting sites where clients have slipped and fallen due to ice. That is one of the things that an experienced lawyer will do on each case: go to the scene of the accident, gather evidence and see the scene so that if the case has a trial a couple of years later, I can be familiar with the layout and conditions that were present when the client got hit. Also, while winter still has three more weeks to go, as it warms up slightly, we can expect to have freeze-thaw conditions that will continue to make for dangers for people to be aware of. I am frequently asked “What obligation does the owner of the property have to remove snow and ice?” The answer to the question depends on what type of property it is.
Commercial landowners (including non-owner occupiers of single family houses, or two or three family houses) have a higher burden or duty to keep their sidewalks reasonably free of snow and ice. In general, an owner of an owner occupied property is not required to remove the snow and ice here in New Jersey, as long as they did not do anything to make the condition worse. We have handled a good number of cases like that over the years, including ones where the owner of property installed gutters that improperly drained onto the sidewalk, which created water run-off onto the sidewalk, which then would, of course, freeze over at night when temperatures drop. Surely, we will see more of these types of accident cases here in Jersey City this Spring.
For our slip and fall cases, we often use a weather expert to assist us, especially if the accident case has to go to trial. For example, I remember Bayonne fall down case that I recently handled. Not only is it important to take photos of the scene and to locate witnesses, but the attorney will likely want to hire a weather expert to send the photos and witness statements and other evidence to. For the Bayonne fall-down, I sent these materials to the weather expert who reviewed what the records were like that week. He noted when it had snowed, and then noted how warm it was during the day, and how cold it would get at night. The role of the expert was to help me, the attorney, be able to prove that the landowner had adequate notice of the snow or ice, or should have known, and had adequate time to remove it, but did not.
We also have been receiving many calls from people involved in car accidents this winter that were also caused in part due to the weather. I represent a nice woman who was injured on the New Jersey Turnpike. Apparently, there was construction going on at the location and the contractor did not properly turn the water off. Overnight, it leaked onto the road, and froze, becoming a sheet of black ice. When commuters went to work early the next morning, there was a multi-car pile-up.
This reminds me of a crash on Route 1&9 that my partner, Jonathan Koles, handled. Jonathan has handled thousands of accident cases during his 30 year career. This was a tragic case. Our client was commuting to work in North Bergen on day after Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. There was a water leak coming from a commercial property owner’s property. The water would leak often. This time it leaked all over Route 1 & 9 North in Jersey City. Our client drove over a sheet of black ice and lost control of her car slamming into a building killing her. We brought a successful claim against the City of Jersey City, the property owner and a water company. The City was sued because there were three prior accidents before our client was killed that morning, and one of the police officers on scene merely left without securing the roadway, diverting traffic or making it safer for motorists. We used experts to help us show the weather conditions and the duties and responsibilities on the various defendants, too.
Weather plays havoc in many ways, especially in a tightly congested area like North Jersey. However, we have a lot of experience in these matters and use that good experience to get our clients good results.