Business owners in New Jersey owe a duty of reasonable care to invitees on their property. The area to which the duty applies extends to the premises’ parking lot. A New Jersey Appellate Court considered whether that duty of care extends to the removal of snow in the parking lot during an active snowstorm.
In Oyebola v. Wal-Mart and Tree Fellas, the plaintiff sued Wal-Mart and their snow removal contractor Tree Fellas, LLC, for injuries she sustained when slipping on snow and ice near her car in the parking lot. It was undisputed between the parties that it was actively snowing at all times that the plaintiff was present at the store. Additionally, it was undisputed that the snow removal contractor was actively removing snow at the time of the incident.
The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, finding that no rational jury could find the defendants negligent, because plaintiff fell during an ongoing snowstorm, and Tree Fellas was already engaged in snow removal efforts at the time of her fall. The plaintiffs appealed, relying on a report prepared by their liability expert, stating that the snow removal contractor should have cleared the lot in a sequential manner.
The Appellate Court upheld the dismissal, noting that, even if we accept the opinion of the plaintiff’s expert, it was still snowing at all times that the plaintiff was present at Wal-Mart. Thus, even if the snow was removed sequentially, it still would have continued to fall next to the plaintiff’s car. The Appellate Court confirmed that the defendants’ duty to remove the snow did not arise until a reasonable passage of time after the snowstorm.
This case is important because it highlights the importance of determining the timing of snowfall in any case involving a slip and fall on snow/ice, since a business owner does not have a duty to remove the snow during an active storm.
Thanks to Heather Aquino for her contribution to this post.