As New Jersey personal injury lawyers, we are frequently asked by clients if they have a case for personal injuries due to a trip and fall accident on a broken sidewalk. According to New Jersey law, private residents who own a sidewalk, which is for the use of the public, are not generally liable for injuries that occur on the sidewalk. Residents usually must keep the area free of snow and ice, and they must repair damage caused by their own acts (like damage to sidewalk that may occur when a homeowner renovates or does extensive landscaping). But a private resident is usually not liable for injuries caused due to cracks, holes, and gaps in the sidewalk that were caused by tree roots or general wear and tear. Commercial entities (like store fronts, businesses, etc.) with sidewalks and parking lots that are for the public use can be sued more easily than a homeowner. This is because New Jersey law states that a business owner is in a better position than a private homeowner to inspect the property and conduct maintenance and repairs.
But is a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious institution considered the same as a private residence, or is it considered a business? It really depends on the facts of the case. But generally, if the religious institution is only using the property for religious purposes and there is no commercial activity going on, then they will not be held liable for sidewalk injuries. See Lombardi v. First United Methodist Church, 200 N.J. Super 646 (App. Div. 1985), and Dupree v. City of Clifton, 351 N.J. Super. 237 (App. Div. 2003). But if they are engaged in commercial activities as well, then they may be liable for sidewalk injuries. See Brown v. St. Venantius School, 111 N.J. 325 (1988) and Restivo v. Church of St. Joseph of the Palisades, 306 N.J. Super 465 (App. Div. 1998). Commercial activities may include things like renting the social hall for parties, renting space in the parking lot, leasing out portions of the building to a school, club, or other third parties, and similar commercial activities.
If you were injured in a fall down accident on broken sidewalk in front of a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious institution, then please call us today for a 100% free consultation. As experienced New Jersey personal injury attorneys, we will be able to look at the facts of the case (specifically the commercial activities of the religious organization) and tell you whether or not you have a case and are entitled to compensation for your injuries.