The New Jersey Tort Claims Act, in part, provides New Jersey public entities with certain defenses and/or immunities from liability, including certain conditions of public property. The Tort Claims Act declares that neither a public entity, or a public employee, is liable for an injury caused by a condition of any unimproved public property. When a plaintiff suffers an injury pertaining to the condition of public property and files suit alleging that a dangerous condition existed, an issue that may arise is whether the property is in fact “unimproved.”
In a recent unpublished Appellate Division case, entitled Eak v. Central Regional School District, the plaintiff arrived at the school to watch her son play baseball on a Junior Varsity field. She parked and walked toward the field, crossing the parking lot and a driveway. She stepped over a curb, onto a grassy downward slope, and then walked toward the bleachers on the third-base side. As she walked down the slope, she stumbled, suffering an injury. She sued the school district, alleging, in part, that the area of her fall was in a dangerous condition.
In determining whether the area was “unimproved” public property, the Court recognized that improving a portion of property does not eliminate immunity from liability for other unimproved areas of property. The Court held that the grassy area in question was “unimproved,” even though other nearby areas, including the baseball field, parking area, walkways, etc., may have been “improved.” Thus, the Court reasoned that while the school made improvements to surrounding areas, such as steps and walkways to other fields, the school district made no similar changes to the grounds between the parking lot and the Junior Varsity field, where the plaintiff fell. The Court determined that the area where the plaintiff fell was in a “natural condition,” and that there was no hidden danger, which caused the plaintiff to fall. The Court determined that the plaintiff was hurt on a slope that was a natural part of the landscape and that no liability would attach.
Whether public property is unimproved is fact-sensitive and is often determined upon the facts of each individual case. If you believe you have been injured on public property, please contact the lawyers at Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C. to determine if you have a claim against a public entity.