Now that December is here, the snow is settling, the temperatures are dropping, and ice is forming on any flat surface that it can find – including sidewalks.
If you were to slip and fall on an icy public sidewalk or private sidewalk, who would be liable for your injuries?
Whether you are a homeowner or business owner, it essential that you regularly salt and shovel your sidewalks and walkways to ensure no one falls and sues you for their injuries. Depending on the nature of the injury, you could be liable if that person falls – which means you pay for their medical costs and other damages.
To win a slip and fall case for an icy sidewalk, you must prove that the property owner did something wrong. In other words, they were negligent. Just because you slipped and fell on a slippery surface does not mean that the owner was negligent. Instead, it comes down to the owner’s role in the icy sidewalk that caused your accident.
This is a very complicated area of personal injury law, and many plaintiffs assume that if they slip and fall on an icy surface, they will automatically win a lawsuit. You must prove several vital elements to receive compensation for that fall.
Accidents like a slip and fall on an icy surface that occurs in a parking lot or sidewalk outside of a business is easier to pursue than one that happens outside of a private residence. That is because property owners have a legal obligation to exercise care when maintaining their property – including parking lots and sidewalks.
They must remove snow and ice quickly to reduce the risk of injury. Typically, a property owner contacts a plow company or has a monthly contract with an ice and snow removal service in the winter. While they have these services, they are still required to maintain, clean, and ensure these companies show to clean away ice and snow.
While property owners owe you a duty of care, you must realize that you too must exercise reasonable care when it comes to walking in an area. If you know it is snowy and icy, you would not run across that surface haphazardly. Also, if there is a less icy path available, you would naturally take the path that is less dangerous.
Failing to exercise your reasonable care when walking could reduce your damages or prevent you from seeking them entirely.
When it comes to removing ice from a sidewalk, the courts consider what is “reasonable” for a property owner and what is reasonable for a person to encounter while walking on a snow-covered sidewalk. The “reasonableness” of something depends on where you live. After all, the snow you see in Montana would not be the same amount of snow in Northern California.
Some states today still use the “natural accumulation” rule too. This law relieves the owner of any liability when they have a natural accumulation of snow and ice on their property, and still fail to remove that natural collection.
If the owner interferes with that natural accumulation, then they could be liable. However, when no abnormal damage exists, a property owner may not be responsible. Most states are doing away with the natural accumulation rules.
In fact, Massachusetts in 2010 decided that the longstanding rule no longer applied. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed that property owners must take steps to remove snow and ice anywhere their visitors, the public, or tenants might frequently travel – especially sidewalks.
Massachusetts is not the only state, and several more have followed since then. In addition to the obligations property owners must state and local law, they may also have contractual language in a lease agreement that requires them to remove snow or ice.
Icy sidewalk conditions depend on the state’s laws. Sometimes, the homeowner is required to shovel and remove ice on their sidewalk, but other times they may not necessarily have to do so.
For example, a homeowner is part of a homeowners’ association in their neighborhood. The association manages and pays for all ice and snow removal. If someone were to slip and fall on an icy surface, the homeowner’s liability might defer to the company hired by the homeowners’ association to handle the ice and snow removal for the neighborhood.
The most important part of a personal injury case, especially in a slip and fall, is the breach of duty. You must prove to the courts that the property owner breached their legal obligation to remove snow and ice from the property.
Here is an example: John went to bed and overnight there was a small snow storm which iced over. At 4:00 am, Nancy was walking through the neighborhood and slipped and fell on John’s sidewalk. Would John be liable?
In this instance, it is unlikely any court would hold John liable, because the storm occurred overnight, during hours where a reasonable person would be asleep and unable to take care of the ice and snow outside.
Take that same instance, but now John has already woken up, gotten ready for work, and left for the day knowing there was snow and ice on his sidewalk. Nancy walks through the neighborhood at 10:00 am and slips and falls. Because John knew about the icy conditions and ignored them, he could be liable.
There are special rules when it comes to the sidewalks outside a home or business. These rules are managed by state and city laws, which make it even harder to determine if you have a valid claim. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a slip and fall accident on an icy surface, meet with an attorney from Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, LLP today.
Schedule a consultation by calling one of our office locations or by requesting your free consultation online.