New Jersey presently has the highest foreclosure rate in the United States. It was only a matter of time before foreclosure law and tort law would collide in the courts.
In a recent unreported decision, the Appellate Division considered whether Bank of America was responsible for personal injuries suffered by a pedestrian slipping on ice and snow while walking on the sidewalk in front of an apartment building mortgaged to the bank. At the time of the incident, the building was vacant, and the bank had obtained a final foreclosure judgment, but no sheriffs sale had taken place. Thus Bank of America was not yet the owner of the property.
Generally, commercial landowners have a legal duty to maintain the sidewalks in front of their buildings in a reasonably safe condition.
The pedestrian claimed that the bank was negligent for failing to maintain the sidewalk. The court found that Bank of America never took over control of the building from the owner, who chose to let the building be vacant and ignored his duties as a landowner by failing to remove snow and ice from the abutting sidewalk. The fact that the bank never took over the management of the building was the key to the court’s decision that the bank was not liable to the pedestrian for his injuries. The Appellate Division upheld the trial court decision to that effect.
This case decision is valuable in providing guidance as to a mortgagee’s liability for personal injuries on a mortgaged building. In this case, the pedestrian did obtain a judgment against the owner for $70,000.00, but it is unclear whether that judgment was collectible.