Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (the “Act” or “TCA”), N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq., public entities are liable for their negligence only as set forth in the Act and in accordance with the fair and uniform principles contained therein. The TCA seeks to provide compensation to tort victims without unduly interfering with governmental functions and without imposing an excessive burden on taxpayers. The Act establishes sovereign immunity for public entities, but does not similarly shield public employees. Thus, with respect to public entities, immunity is the rule, and liability the exception. The analysis for determining public-employee liability under the Act differs from the analysis for determining public-entity liability.
Accordingly, when public employees are involved in activities that require discretionary decisions regarding the allocation of resources, they are liable only when their actions have been palpably unreasonable. See N.J.S.A. 59:3-2(d) (providing qualified immunity for discretionary decision-making). On the other hand, when qualified immunity for discretionary decision-making does not apply, public employees are liable in tort under common-law principles of ordinary negligence.
Nevertheless, the Act grants an absolute immunity to both public entities and their employees from liability for injuries caused by a failure to enforce the law. See N.J.S.A. 59:2-4 (“A public entity is not liable for an injury caused by adopting or failing to adopt a law or by failing to enforce any law”); see also N.J.S.A. 59:3-5 (“A public employee is not liable for an injury caused by his adoption of or failure to adopt any law or by his failure to enforce any law”). Under these sections, public entities and their employees are not liable for their failure to enforce safety ordinances, regulations or the law generally.