609 Morris Ave | Elizabeth | NJ 07208
To Speak With One Of Our
Attorneys Right Now
Call: (908) 353-5850

  • Home
  • Firm Blog
  • In a recent New Jersey Appellate Court decision, a three-judge panel ruled that a condo association owed a duty of care to keep common areas safe, that included the use of a center handrail.
Monday, 08 January 2018 00:00

In a recent New Jersey Appellate Court decision, a three-judge panel ruled that a condo association owed a duty of care to keep common areas safe, that included the use of a center handrail.

Written by Jonathan Druckman

In Lechler v. 303 Sunset Avenue Condominium Association the Appellate Division ruled that the condominium association can be held negligent for a missing center handrail.

This premises liability case stems from an incident dating back to August 24, 2014. The Plaintiff testified that he stumbled near bolt holes in the center of the stairs where a railing had previously existed. An expert for the Plaintiff indicated that bolts were present inside the drill holes on the staircase. Apparently on August 24th, as the Plaintiff stumbled he began to run down the staircase in an effort to recover his balance. However, despite his efforts, he hit the last step with his left foot which caused him to fall to the ground. The stairs lacked a handrail going down the center and only had handrails along the sides of the staircase, despite being 158 inches wide.

The Plaintiff has described the injuries as severe leaving his left heel completely deformed. After arriving at the hospital, doctors diagnosed plaintiff’s injury as a displaced fracture which would require internal fixation surgery to correct. The result was internal hardware to fix the fracture. On October 24, 2016, a Law Division Judge granted a direct verdict for the Condominium Association and for the property manager. The Judge dismissed Plaintiff’s claim for negligence with prejudice – which is a dismissal of a case based on its merit and bars a plaintiff from bringing an action on the same claim again. In other words, this October decision was a final judgment. However, the Plaintiff was not done fighting his case and appealed to the Appellate division who rendered a ruling that the Plaintiff’s case should not have been dismissed.

The Appellate Court held:

“We hold that the Association had a statutory duty to maintain the common areas, including a duty to identify and correct dangerous conditions, and that duty extended to residents of the condominium building, regardless of their characterization as licensees or invitees.”

Based on this ruling, the plaintiff has at least established a prima facie case where a jury could find that the Condo Association was negligent. The case was remanded back down to the New Jersey Law Division and a new trial was ordered.

According to the Plaintiff, he had a balcony on his condo unit that overlooked the stairs where he had fallen. He testified that he used the staircase multiple times each day and had never had a problem with the stairs before the incident in August. The President of the Condo Association testified that she was aware that people would walk down the center of the staircase without using handrails, but had never before received a complaint about the lack of a handrail. Two years before the incident, in 2012, a State inspector had allegedly come and examined the premises but did not mention anything about the need for a center handrail.

An expert for the plaintiff had testified that the BOCA building code in 1975 (the year the Condominium building was constructed) required a central handrail for any stairway wider than 88 inches. It appeared as though someone had removed a center railing that had originally been installed.

Slipping or falling can be embarrassing. If you had an incident on a sidewalk, in a store, or in an apartment and have suffered injuries, you may be entitled to money for your damages. Call the lawyers at Druckman & Hernandez to protect your rights. 908-353-5850.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

There is no fee unless we recover money for you!