Officers and firefighters are often injured while on the job. Under New Jersey law, when an accident occurs due to negligence of a property owner, first responders are treated as any other person on the property and have the right to file appropriate negligence lawsuits. A recent New Jersey Supreme Court case upheld this right.
Rowe v. Mazel Thirty, LLC is a recent 2012 opinion in which a police officer was injured when the stairs he was walking on cracked, causing him to suffer career-ending injuries. The officer filed suit against the property owner. The trial court found in favor of the property owner and dismissed the case. That decision was affirmed by the New Jersey Superior Court. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding that the police officer’s case should have been allowed to be presented to a jury.
The facts of the Rowe case are very specific. The building owner knew that officers were patrolling the area and knew that on a previous occasion, an officer had come to the premises. The officer filed suit alleging that the owner was negligent in supervising, maintaining and controlling the premises and failed to warn of the dangerous condition. The owner argued that the officer’s presence was unforeseen and that the officer was aware of the condition.
The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the trial and appellate courts, finding that a first responder’s status as either an invitee or licensee is what determines the duty owed by the property owner. The court stated:
“In the final analysis, the specific facts and circumstances of an officer’s presence
on a landowner’s premises will determine his status as an invitee or licensee and
the concomitant duty owed. Recapping, where an officer stands in the shoes of an
invitee, the owner has a duty to conduct a reasonable inspection to discover latent
dangerous conditions and either repair or warn of them. To the contrary, if the
officer is a licensee, the landowner has no duty to inspect, but has a duty to warn
of any dangerous conditions of which the owner knows or reasonably should know
and of which the officer reasonably is unaware.” (citations omitted, emphasis added)
Related Legal Article: NJ Police Officer & Firefighter Lawsuits Against Property Owners
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Published: May 24, 2012