Can I hold the community housing where I live liable for me driving over an open manhole cover?

Last night after finishing work late I was looking for parking in my neighborhood I live in subsidized housing. As I was on the road of the main administration building of my community I ran over an opened manhole cover that was in the middle of the road because I couldn’t see it. Could I hold the administration of my housing responsible for the danger of an open manhole cover having caused me significant damage to the underside of my car?

Asked on May 27, 2017 under Accident Law, New Jersey


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

IF you can show that the manhole cover had been left open by someone or some entity, you could likely hold that person or entity liable for the car damage. So if the housing authority or landlord/property management company (etc.) had opened the manhole (e.g for repairs) and left it open without any warning signs, cones, etc., that would be a negligent, or unreasonably careless, act and should make them liable. Similarly, if this was done by, say, PSEG or some other utility, you should be able to hold the utility liable. But you need to identify who did this: only the person or entity which carelessly left this open would be liable, since only that person or entity would be at fault, and liability is based on fault. And if it was some random person who did this--e.g. a prank by neighborhood teens--if you cannot identify who did this, there is no one to sue or hold liable.

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