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Since the 1976 decision of Yanhko v. Fane, 70 N.J. 528, 532 (1976), it has been New Jersey law that residential landowners are “not liable for the condition of a sidewalk caused by the action of the elements or by wear and tear incident to public use, but only for the negligent construction or repair of the sidewalk by himself or by a specified predecessor in title or for direct use or obstruction of the sidewalk by the owner in such a manner as to render it unsafe for passersby.”
However, a recently case before the New Jersey Appellate Division raised the question of whether “[t]he time has come to abandon th[is] unenlightened standard.” In Corry v. Barbieri, Docket No. A-5931-13T2 (App. Div. Feb. 5, 2016, the plaintiff alleged that she was walking on a sidewalk abutting defendants’ residence when “a raised and severely broken portion of the sidewalk” caused her to trip and fall and, as a consequence, suffer a severe rotator cuff injury. The plaintiff further suggested that defendants “active[ly] contribut[ed]” to the condition of the sidewalk where she tripped and fell. Relying on Yanhko, the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims.
The Appellate Division upheld the dismissal. While noting that other judges had criticized this doctrine as an “anachronistic rule” that is “pregnant with seeds of gross injustice,” the Appellate Division noted that the New Jersey Supreme Court had not overruled Yanhko and therefore it remained good law. The Appellate Division explained that it was “bound to these principles; only the Supreme Court can say whether it is time for a change.”