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Krevics v. Ayars

April 30, 1976

GUNIS E. KREVICS AND BETTY J. KREVICS, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SHERMAN E. AYARS AND RICHARD HERRMAN, DEFENDANTS



Narrow, J.c.c.

Narrow

This matter comes before the court on motion of defendant Ayars for summary judgment. Ayars is the owner of an 11-acre tract of woodland in Quinton Township. It was on this undeveloped property that the incident resulting in this litigation occurred.

Plaintiff has alleged that for several years prior to the incident Ayars had allowed and maintained a motorbike trail on this property. At some date just prior to November 1, 1973 Ayars either caused or consented to the placement of a cable across the motorbike trail, ostensibly to keep others off of the land.

On November 1, 1973 plaintiff was riding along the trail on his motorbike when he came in contact with the cable. The accident occurred near dusk, when the cable was indistinguishable from the surrounding woodlands. Ayars had posted no warning signs. As a result of the accident plaintiff suffered substantial injuries.

Ayars moves for summary judgment on the ground that the Landowner's Liability Act (hereinafter, act), N.J.S.A. 2A:42A-1 et seq. , bars plaintiff's action. For the reasons stated below, Ayars is not entitled to the relief.

While there have been but few reported cases dealing with this statute, it is clear that the Legislature did not intend to grant immunity in a case such as the present one. It can be stated as a general principle that the act was intended to protect landholders from liability only when it would be unreasonable to expect the landholder to maintain supervision over the property in question. Scheck v. Houdaille Const. Materials, Inc. , 121 N.J. Super. 335 (Law Div. 1972). The key is the size and nature of the property, as well as the quality of the hazard.

As to the size of the tract of land, there is no doubt that this property does qualify its owner for protection under

the act. Furthermore, the recreational activity of motorbiking falls within the requirement of a "sport and recreational" activity as mandated by the act. Thus, the only issue which prevents defendant from claiming the benefit of the act is the "quality" of this particular hazard.

As to the "quality" of a hazard, the act states that the landholder owes no duty to keep the premises safe or to warn "of any hazardous condition of the land or in connection with the use of any structure. * * *" N.J.S.A. 2A:42A-3(a). Subsection (b) also protects the landholder when he grants permission to others to use the premises. This protection means that permission to use property does not include assurance that the premises are safe for such use. Nor does such permission raise the licensee to the status of an invitee.

Neither of these provisions applies, however, when the landowner deliberately creates the hazard, as plaintiff alleges here. The act itself excludes from its provisions the "willful or malicious failure to guard, or warn against, a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity * * *." N.J.S.A. 2A:42A-4(a).

Plaintiff's allegations must be accepted as truthful for purposes of this motion. Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield , 17 N.J. 67 (1954). These allegations quite reasonably lead to the conclusion that Ayars created or consented to the erection of a very dangerous condition on his property. At the time the cable was erected defendant was aware that the land was being used as a motorbike trail. The act cannot be construed to protect a landowner from liability when he creates or knowingly permits a condition which foreseeably will lead to this kind of accident.

It is important to note that the hazard here is not a natural one, like that in Odar v. Chase Manhattan Bank , 138 N.J. Super. 464 (App. Div. 1976). In that case plaintiff's decedent drowned while trying to rescue his daughter. The ...


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