N.J. Business Owners May Have Duty to Inspect Off-Site Parking Lots Regardless of Ownership

A recent N.J. Appellate Division case analyzed whether business owners have a duty to provide patrons with a safe pathway to an offsite parking lot owned by others.

In Ciarrocca v. Ferrugia Associates, et. al., defendant (funeral home) had an agreement with two adjacent businesses to use their parking lots when their lots became full. Defendant also hired an off-duty police officer to manage traffic. The officer testified that he was instructed by the defendant to direct patrons to other off-site parking lots onShawnee Drive for which defendant did not have permission to use. Plaintiff was directed to park at one of theShawnee Drive lots and used a sidewalk to get to defendant’s premises. When returning to her car via the same route, she slipped on black ice, fell and seriously injured her leg. Defendant later moved for summary judgment and the Trial Court ruled in their favor and again on reconsideration.

The Appellate Division noted generally that landowners have a duty to prevent injury to visitors from dangerous conditions and to warn of hazards. Business-owners in particular have a duty to remove hazards such as snow and ice from ways of access to their establishment. Case law also instructs that business owners have no duty in areas where they lack both ownership and control. While agreeing with the “ownership and control” analysis utilized by the lower Court, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s decision finding a limited duty only if the plaintiff herself had chosen where she parked. Although the defendant could not remedy the condition near the Shawnee Lot, it had a duty to perform a reasonable inspection and warn guests of hazardous conditions or to avoid the site if they directed patrons to park onShawnee Drive. The matter was remanded to the trial court to determine whether defendant in fact instructed the officer to direct traffic to theShawnee Drive lot and whether the black ice could have been discovered by a reasonable inspection.

Thanks to Andrew Marra for this post.  If you have any questions or comments, please contact Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com