CONDO ASSOCIATION RULES MAY HARM INJURED OWNERS
You own a condominium. Let’s say it’s located in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Outside your condo, in the common area, there is a pine tree that you don’t like. You ask the condo association to remove it. Eventually, they do.
However, they fail to remove the pine tree entirely. They leave a six-inch “stump”.
You realize that the stump is a tripping hazard. Thus, you ask the condo association to remove it. Nonetheless, four and a half months later, it is still there.
At that time, you leave your condo to walk your dog. Unfortunately, you trip over the stump. You suffer serious injuries to your hand, elbow and lower back. An ambulance takes you to Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.
The accident could have been avoided if the association had only removed the stump promptly. But they didn’t.
Accordingly, you contact a local personal injury attorney. The lawyer comes to your Ridgewood home to meet with you. You hire him.
The personal injury attorney sues the condo association for negligence. Seems like a slam dunk case, right?
DID YOU READ YOUR CONDO BY-LAWS?
But wait a second. The association’s lawyer has a copy of the by-laws of the condo association. The by-laws that you agreed to when you bought the condo.
A clause in the by-laws states that “a lawsuit may be brought by an Owner as a result of bodily injury to the Owner on the premises. However, the Association shall be immune from liability unless willful, wanton or grossly negligent acts or omissions by the Association occurred.”
In plain English, this means that you can’t sue the association for simple negligence. You can only sue them for intentional conduct, or for gross (extreme) negligence.
A recent New Jersey Court case had roughly the same facts. The judge ruled that the owner couldn’t recover compensation from the owner. The judge found that the long delay in removing the stump may have been negligent. But negligence was not enough. The victim could not prove that the association’s failure to remove the stump promptly was “gross” negligence.
To prove”gross negligence,” a personal injury attorney must demonstrate a failure to exercise even “slight care.” Or the personal injury lawyer must prove “an extreme departure from the standard of reasonable care.”
According to the judge, no reasonable person could conclude on these facts that the association was “grossly” negligent. Therefore, the judge dismissed the case without even a trial. An appeals court affirmed the ruling.
I disagree with this judgment. I think that a jury should have been allowed to decide.
IF YOU ARE EVER INJURED
If you own a condo, and something like this ever happens to you, don’t despair. See a personal injury lawyer immediately. There are exceptions to virtually every legal rule. Not every association has such a by-law. And much depends on the exact facts of the case, as well as on the exact language of any applicable by-law.