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  • Writer's picturePeter Lamont, Esq.

Premises Liability and New Jersey Commercial Landowners

Under New Jersey law, commercial landowners have a legal duty to maintain their property in a safe condition. Failure to maintain your property can result in accidents and injuries, which can lead to costly liability claims and lawsuits. In this blog post, we will discuss New Jersey's negligence laws, how they apply to commercial property owners, and what steps you can take to protect yourself and your business.

New Jersey Commercial Property Owners & Negligence

Commercial property owners in New Jersey have a legal responsibility to maintain their properties in a safe condition . Failure to do so can result in the landowner being held liable for injuries and damages.


Legal Principles Governing Commercial Property Owner's Liability in New Jersey

In New Jersey, commercial property owners owe a duty of care to those who enter their premises. The duty of care requires property owners to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition, including taking necessary steps to prevent foreseeable risks and dangers. Property owners must also warn visitors of any potential hazards that are not readily apparent.


The legal principle of negligence governs commercial property owner's liability in New Jersey. Negligence is defined as the failure to take reasonable care to prevent harm to others. In the context of commercial property ownership, negligence can arise when a property owner fails to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, causing injury or harm to a visitor.


Proving Negligence in a Commercial Property Owner Liability Case

To establish negligence in a premises liability case, the plaintiff must establish the following elements:

  1. Duty of Care - The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.

  2. Breach of Duty - The plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

  3. Causation - The plaintiff must prove that the defendant's breach of duty was the cause of the plaintiff's injury.

  4. Damages - The plaintiff must prove that they suffered damages as a result of the defendant's breach of duty.

Liability for Third-Party Criminal Acts

In addition to liability for negligence, commercial property owners in New Jersey may also be held liable for third-party criminal acts. Property owners have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect their visitors from foreseeable criminal acts. Suppose a property owner fails to take adequate security measures, such as installing surveillance cameras, hiring security personnel, or providing adequate lighting, and a visitor is injured or harmed by a criminal act, the property owner may be held liable for the damages.


No Duty of Care to Trespassers

In New Jersey, a commercial landowner may not be held responsible for negligence in the case of a trespasser. A trespasser is someone who enters the property without the owner's permission. In this case, the landowner does not owe a duty of care to the trespasser, and therefore cannot be held liable for any injuries or damages caused to the trespasser. However, if the landowner is aware of the trespasser's presence on the property and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent harm, such as posting warning signs or fencing off dangerous areas, they may be held liable for any resulting injuries.


Under New Jersey law, a trespasser is defined as an individual who is not authorized or permitted to be on a landowner's property. This was established in the case of Lordi v. Spiotta, 45 A.2d 491, 494 (Sup.Ct. 1946). Examples of trespassers include those who take shortcuts through a yard or those who ignore posted signs indicating that the property is off-limits. These individuals are unexpected visitors to the property and are not welcomed by the landowner.

In New Jersey, a commercial landowner may not be held responsible for negligence in the case of a trespasser.

New Jersey Commerical Landowner's Non-Deleable Duty

Under New Jersey law, commercial landowners have a non-delegable duty to ensure the safety of their property for use by invitees of their commercial tenant. This means that the landowner cannot transfer this responsibility to anyone else, including their tenants. The duty of care owed by the commercial landowner includes maintaining the property in a safe condition, providing adequate warnings of potential hazards, and taking reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm. If a commercial landowner fails to fulfill this duty of care and an invitee of their tenant is injured as a result, the landowner may be held liable for damages.


Exception to Non-Delegable Duty to Maintain the Commercial Premises

The New Jersey Appellate Division has recognized an exception to the commercial landowner's non-delegable duty in certain circumstances. The exception applies when the landowner provides exclusive control of the property to its commercial tenant. See Milacci v. Mato Realty Co., Inc., 217 N.J. Super. 297, 301 (App. Div. 1987), and McBride v. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, 295 N.J. Super. 521, 525-526 (App. Div. 1996). In these cases, the landowner had delegated control of the property to its tenant, who was responsible for maintaining the property. As a result, the landowner was not liable for any injuries that occurred on the property.


It is important to note that this exception only applies if the landowner provides exclusive control of the property to its commercial tenant. If the landowner retains any control over the property or shares control with the tenant, the landowner may still be liable for any injuries that occur on the property.


Comparative Negligence

Under New Jersey's comparative negligence law, the plaintiff's recovery may be reduced by their own negligence. If the plaintiff contributed to their injuries in any way, their recovery may be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to them.


Some Common Hazards

In general, commercial landowners are expected to take reasonable steps to ensure that their property is safe and free from hazards. Some common examples of hazards that commercial landowners may be required to address include:

  • Broken or uneven pavement or flooring

  • Inadequate lighting

  • Missing or broken handrails or guardrails

  • Malfunctioning or improperly maintained elevators or escalators

  • Debris or obstructions that could cause tripping or falling

  • Hazardous chemicals or materials

  • Inadequate security measures

What is Commercial Property Maintenance?

Commercial property maintenance involves keeping your property in good condition to prevent accidents and injuries. It includes regular inspections, repairs, and upgrades to ensure that the property is safe for employees, customers, and visitors. Maintenance activities can range from minor tasks such as fixing a leaky faucet to major projects like replacing a roof or installing new flooring.


Tips for Maintaining Your Commercial Property

Now that we have discussed the importance of maintaining your commercial property let's look at some tips for keeping it in good condition:


1. Conduct Regular Inspections

Regular inspections are crucial in identifying potential hazards and maintenance needs. Inspections can be performed by the business owner, maintenance staff, or professional contractors. Ensure that any identified hazards are fixed promptly.


2. Keep the Property Clean

Cleanliness is essential in maintaining a safe property. Regular cleaning can prevent slip and fall accidents and reduce the spread of germs and bacteria. Ensure that the property is cleaned regularly, including floors, windows, and restrooms.


3. Repair Any Damage

Damage to the property should be repaired promptly. Broken stairs, loose handrails, and cracked flooring are hazards that should be fixed immediately. Failure to repair known hazards can be considered negligence in the event of an accident.


4. Upgrade When Necessary

Upgrading your property can improve its safety and functionality. For example, replacing old flooring with non-slip flooring can prevent slip and fall accidents. Upgrades can also increase the value of your property and make it more attractive to tenants or buyers.


5. Hire Professionals

Some maintenance tasks require specialized knowledge and expertise. It is essential to hire professionals for tasks such as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC maintenance. Professional contractors can ensure that the work is done correctly and safely.


Conclusion

Under New Jersey Law If a commercial landowner fails to maintain their property in a safe and reasonable condition, they may be held liable for any injuries or damages that result from their negligence. This could include paying compensation to injured parties or facing fines or other penalties. The best way to avoid this is by engaging in a regular property maintenance routine that ensures the property is regularly inspected, maintained, and repaired as needed.


Do you have questions about purchasing or owning a commercial property? If so, contact us Today at our Bergen County Office. Call Us at (201) 904-2211 or email Us at info@pjlesq.com

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If you would like more information about this post or if you want to discuss your legal matter with an attorney at the Law Offices of Peter J. Lamont, please contact me at pl@pjlesq.com or at (201) 904-2211. Don't forget to check out and subscribe to our podcast and YouTube channel. We have hundreds of podcasts and videos concerning a variety of business and legal topics. I look forward to answering any questions that you might have.

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As with any legal issue, it is important that you obtain competent legal counsel before making any decisions about how to respond to a subpoena or whether to challenge one - even if you believe that compliance is not required. Because each situation is different, it may be impossible for this article to address all issues raised by every situation encountered in responding to a subpoena. The information below can give you guidance regarding some common issues related to subpoenas, but you should consult with an attorney before taking any actions (or refraining from acts) based on these suggestions. Separately, this post will focus on New Jersey law. If you receive a subpoena in a state other than New Jersey you should immediately seek the advice of an attorney in your state as certain rules differ in other states.

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