Appeals Court Rules That Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit against Church Can Proceed

Fischerhude Chruch

Fischerhude Chruch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A New Jersey State appeals court recently ruled that a trial judge acted too quickly when granting summary judgment to a Hudson County church involved in a slip-and-fall lawsuit, proving that where responsibility lies in such accidents is not always clear-cut. (1)

In November 2008, Fatma Mohammed fell after stepping into a dip in the sidewalk adjacent to a Jersey City church suffering soft-tissue injuries. Ms. Mohammed sued the church for failure to maintain the sidewalk. (1)

New Jersey law states that commercial property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks adjacent to their property. (2) That includes making reasonable inspections of the property to discover potential damage. If repairs cannot be made immediately to the damaged area, those owners are responsible for alerting the public to the potential hazards until the necessary repairs can be made.

Private homeowners, religious entities and other non-profit organizations are usually exempt from this liability, with certain exceptions:

* Homeowners can be held liable if it is proven the damage resulted from faulty construction or attempted repairs on the part of the homeowner. Exceptions also exist if the homeowner is receiving rent from the property in question.

* Religious organizations are exempt if it is proven their property is used solely for religious services. (1) Similar exemptions apply to other non-profits who use their property only for the express business of the organization.

In the aforementioned case, the church’s pastor disclosed that the church, at times, rented its basement for parties and also received donations for the use of its parking lot on weekdays. The pastor also stated that separate books were kept to record donations received from parishioners and non-parishioners. Before the court could review those books, however, attorneys for the church moved for summary judgment, which the trial judge granted. (1)

The appeals court pointed out that before granting summary judgment, the judge should have waited for the discovery period to end so it could be decided whether the church, because of its rental activities, could be considered a commercial entity and, as such, held responsible for Ms. Mohammed’s injuries. (1)

Slip-and-fall accidents are those in which a person slips or trips and falls on someone else’s property. (3) Determining responsibility for injuries incurred in such accidents involves more than just discovering who owns the property. First, it must be determined that the victim fell through no fault of his or her own. The next step is deciding who was responsible for maintaining the area of the fall, which is not always an easy question to answer. (4)

For legal advice pertaining to the recovery of damages for injuries suffered in a slip-and-fall accident, contact the Hunterdon County NJ personal injury lawyers at Ragland Law Firm. The firm is located on Route 22 West, Lebanon, NJ.

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/nj/PubArticleNJ.jsp?id=1202546537215&slreturn=1
(2) www.judiciary.state.nj.us/civil/charges/5.20B.doc
(3) http://injury.findlaw.com/torts-and-personal-injuries/slip-and-fall-accidents-overview.html

(4) http://www.lawcore.com/slip-and-fall-accident/

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