The Superior Court of New Jersey recently affirmed the trial court’s summary decision in favor of the defendants and ruled that defendants were not obligated to remove snow and ice between parked cars until the cars either moved, or the snow stopped falling, and defendants had a reasonable time to remove the snow.
In Oyebola v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 432 (App. Div. Feb. 25, 2019), Plaintiff slipped and fell in a Wal-Mart parking lot while it was snowing.
According to Plaintiff’s testimony, she fell as she was walking between her car and the car parked next to hers when she slipped on ice and snow between the cars, causing a right foot fracture. Subsequently, she sued Defendants Walmart and Tree Fellas, the snow removal crew. The trial court granted defendants’ summary judgment motion and ruled that no rational jury would find that the defendants were negligent because plaintiff fell during an ongoing snowstorm when Tree Fellas was already at the location, performing ice and snow removal.
On appeal, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court and affirmed their decision. The Superior Court first noted that defendants do not dispute that they owed plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care because she was a business invitee of Wal-Mart. However, the Court noted that it has long been recognized that commercial landowners have a reasonable time in which to act to clear snow and ice from walkways.
Since there was an ongoing snowstorm at the time of plaintiff’s fall and the snow removal crew was on site, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court’s decision. The Court further ruled that Plaintiff’s additional arguments, including whether Wal-Mart should have remained open or whether defendants complied with the snow-removal contract, were not genuine issues of material fact. The undisputed material fact was that it was snowing, and that defendants are entitled to a reasonable period of time to remove the snow.
Michelle Yee (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate and Josh Ferguson (email@example.com) is a Partner and Co-chair in the Philadelphia and Cherry Hill offices of Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP.