Notice of Prior Icing Condition at Different Location Not Notice of Dangerous Condition to Township Under Tort Claims Act

By: Betsy G. Ramos, Esq.

Plaintiff Andrew Buterbaugh was injured in a one car accident when his car skidded on a patch of ice and collided with trees on the other side of the road. In Buterbaugh v. Township of Readington, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1779 (July 21, 2014 App. Div.), he sued the Township of Readington on the basis that the icy roadway was caused by water draining down the roadway due to a low spot. He also alleged the Township failed to spread salt properly, failed to have proper signage as to the curve in the road, and failed to warn of the icy conditions. The Township was granted summary judgment by the trial court due to the plaintiff’s failure to show that the Township had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition.

Under the Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:4-2, the plaintiff must prove that the Township had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition “a sufficient time prior to the injury to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition.”  Plaintiff’s proof of notice relies upon a prior incident in which ice contributed to an accident about 2 years earlier at a location approximately 1000 feet from the site of the plaintiff’s accident.

However, there was no evidence of any complaints or other accidents relating to icing caused by poor drainage either before or after the prior accident. Further, the Appellate Division pointed out that complaints about a dangerous condition at one location cannot serve as notice of a dangerous condition at a different location.

Thus, the Appellate Division ruled that, without any other supporting proof, a single ice related accident 2 years earlier in a different location is insufficient to establish notice of the alleged dangerous condition.  The appeals court also disposed of the plaintiff’s claim concerning failure to post signage. The Township was immune from liability under N.J.S.A. 59:4-5, which provides that a public entity is not liable “for an injury caused by the failure to provide ordinary traffic signals, signs, markings or other similar devices.”

The Appellate Division never reached the argument that immunity was also provided under the weather immunity provision of the Tort Claims Act because it found that summary judgment was properly granted due to the lack of notice to the Township. Therefore, it upheld the order granting summary judgment and dismissing the case.