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Liptak v. Frank

Decided: December 16, 1985.


On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Bergen County.

Pressler, Dreier and Gruccio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.


[206 NJSuper Page 337] Plaintiff Edward Liptak sustained physical injuries when he fell on an icy sidewalk abutting residential property owned by defendants Helmut and Elfriede Frank. He brought this personal injury action alleging that defendants owed him a duty, imposed by common law, ordinance or both, to maintain the sidewalk and had negligently failed to do so. Summary judgment

was granted dismissing these claims and plaintiff appeals.*fn1 We are constrained to affirm.

The issue of a property owner's responsibility to maintain abutting sidewalks in reasonably good condition is one which has regularly engaged the attention of the Supreme Court over the last three decades. Despite the vigorous expression of dissenting views, the blanket non-liability rule enunciated in Moskowitz v. Herman, 16 N.J. 223, 228-231 (1954) (Chief Justice Vanderbilt and Justice Jacobs, dissenting), was adhered to until Stewart v. 104 Wallace St., Inc., 87 N.J. 146 (1981). See Yanhko v. Fane, 70 N.J. 528, 537 (1976) (Justices Pashman and Schreiber, dissenting); Muzio v. Krauzer, 62 N.J. 243 (1973) (Justices Jacobs and Mountain, dissenting); Barkley v. Foster Estates, Inc., 61 N.J. 576 (1972) (affirming the Appellate Division application of the non-liability rule by an equally divided vote); Murray v. Michalak, 58 N.J. 220 (1971) (Justices Jacobs and Proctor, dissenting). In Stewart the Court carved out an exception to the non-liability rule by imposing liability on abutting commercial landowners. The Stewart rule was extended by Mirza v. Filmore Corp., 92 N.J. 390, 395-396 (1983), to impose the duty upon abutting commercial landowners to remove or reduce the hazard of ice and snow on public sidewalks.

As we read Stewart, however, the Court expressly declined, despite the persuasive concurring opinion of Justice Schreiber, 87 N.J. at 160, then to overrule the non-liability rule in respect of abutting residential owners. It may well be that on its next consideration of the issue the Court will extend the Stewart liability rule to residential property owners. Nevertheless, we, as an intermediate appellate court, are not free to deviate from what we regard as the Supreme Court's presently

articulated view, and as of this point that view does not encompass the liability of abutting residential property owners.

We are further satisfied that as an intermediate appellate court we are precluded by the express contrary holding of Yanhko v. Fane, supra, 70 N.J. at 536-537, from concluding that a municipal ordinance requiring a residential landowner to remove ice and snow from his abutting sidewalk creates a tort duty owed to pedestrians. We are nevertheless persuaded that developments in the tort law since Yanhko might well be regarded by the Supreme Court as requiring its reconsideration of this issue.

Following the decision in Yanhko, the American Law Institute issued Tentative Draft No. 23 of the Restatement, Torts 2d (1977), Chapter 43 of which included this draft formulation of proposed § 874A:

When a legislative provision proscribes or requires certain conduct for the benefit of a class of persons but does not provide a civil remedy for the violation, the court may, if it determines that the remedy is appropriate in furtherance of the purpose of the legislation and needed to assure the effectiveness of the provision, accord to an injured member of the class a right of action, using a suitable existing tort action or a new cause of action analogous to an existing tort action.

We relied on that draft formulation in Bortz v. Rammel, 151 N.J. Super. 312, 321-322 (App.Div.1977), certif. den., 75 N.J. 539 (1977), in concluding that the Construction Safety Code, adopted by the Commissioner of Labor and Industry pursuant to the Construction Safety Act, N.J.S.A. 34:5-166, et seq., created not only a builder's standard of conduct but also imposed tort liability to persons injured as a result of noncompliance with the Code's requirements. We again relied on proposed § 874A in Lally v. Copygraphics, 173 N.J. Super. 162, 172-173 (App.Div.1980), aff'd, 85 N.J. 668 (1981), in holding that, where a statutory provision made it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who seeks workers' compensation ...

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