Property owners have a legal duty to ensure their properties and grounds do not pose unreasonable risks to lawful visitors, guests, and customers. During the winter, many areas of the country experience snow and ice accumulation that can lead to slip and fall injuries. When such injuries occur, it may be difficult to determine liability for the damages. Liability may fall on the property owner, a public agency, a third party, or even the victim.
A property owner has a duty of care to rectify a safety issue if that issue creates a foreseeable risk of injury. Many states and local governments also uphold laws for snow and ice removal. For example, in some areas homeowners are responsible for clearing away snow from the sidewalk in front of their homes. Business owners often contract snow removal companies to keep their properties and parking lots free of snow and ice, but this may not be enough to avoid liability for a slip and fall on an icy surface.
If a person suffers a slip and fall injury due to snow and ice on private property, then the subsequent investigation will determine whether the property owner took adequate steps to prevent injuries on the property. On the other hand, members of the public have a duty to act with reasonable care when walking in an area that could foreseeably present a slip and fall hazard.
When a person falls on private property and suffers an injury from snow and ice accumulation, his or her first response may be to blame the property owner. However, a property owner is only liable if he or she failed to exercise reasonable care of the property or somehow altered the natural accumulation of snow and ice on the property. The plaintiff will need to prove that the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of the property or the clearing of snow and ice.
If a slip and fall occurs on publicly controlled property, such as in a public park or on the steps of a government building, then a government entity may be liable for the victim’s damages. However, filing a lawsuit against a public office or government agency is far more difficult than taking legal action against a private individual or company; many government agencies have sovereign immunity that frees them from civil liabilities. Others may only allow legal claims under very strict circumstances. A plaintiff will typically need to meet a very short statute of limitations, and state laws may limit his or her recovery.
It is also possible for a slip and fall victim to incur liability for his or her own accident. In states that follow comparative negligence laws, a plaintiff can lose a portion of damages if the jury deems him or her partially at fault for the claimed damage. For example, running on snowy surfaces is extremely dangerous and would not qualify as exercising reasonable care, so a plaintiff who ran and suffered a slip and fall would receive reduced damages or possibly no damages at all.
Personal injury attorneys are fantastic resources after any snow and ice-related slip and fall injury. An attorney can help an injured client determine the best course of action for recovery, handle insurance correspondence, and build a strong case to counter any claims of comparative negligence from the defense.