Around this time each year many people get vaccinated against the common but debilitating illness, the flu. If you ask these people why they get their annual flu shot, they may respond with that common expression, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Since prevention is at the forefront of so many people’s minds this time of year it is also a good time to determine whether your association is properly immunized against a common but debilitating condition affecting so many communities, the slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall personal injury lawsuit.
One of the most powerful tools an association can use to protect itself against these claims is the tort immunity afforded to community associations pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-12. et seq. According to these statutes, as long as the necessary language is included within the Association’s bylaws, the association will not be liable in any personal injury lawsuit brought by a unit owner for bodily injury occurring on the association’s property. See, N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-13(a). However, the immunity afforded under these statutes will not apply if the association’s willful, wanton or grossly negligent conduct causes the unit owner’s injury. See, N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-13(b).
The power of this statutory immunity to insulate an association from liability was recognized by our State Judiciary as recently as September 25, 2013. In the Unpublished Decision in Marion Costa v. Shadow Lake Village Condominium Association, Inc., et al., 2013 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2342 (App. Div. 2013) the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss a unit owner’s claims against the association, and the association’s property manager, for injuries arising out of a slip-and-fall on the common property, because a tort immunity provision was included within that association’s bylaws. In Shadow Lake, both the Appellate Division and the trial court concluded that the circumstances leading up to the unit owner’s injuries may, at worst, be characterized as simple negligence. Fortunately for the association in Shadow Lake, the language within the association’s bylaws rendered it immune to such claims.
Although the tort immunity afforded by N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-12. et seq, is a powerful tool against personal injury claims, the overwhelming majority of bylaws implemented by developers during original construction do not include the language that is necessary to secure this protection. If that is the case in your community, tort immunity is only one simple amendment away. According to N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-14(a) tort immunity can be added to any set of bylaws by an amendment approved by a two-thirds vote of the association’s membership. Once adopted, the immunity will then apply to any actions for injuries sustained after the date the new bylaw provision becomes operative. See, N.J.S.A. 2A:62A-14(s). Please give us a call if you would like to discuss implementing tort immunity in your association.