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Slip & Fall Lawyer



Slip and Fall Accidents Involving Snow or Ice

Icy and snowy conditions are some of the most common causes of slip and fall accidents. Slick surfaces on sidewalks, outdoor steps and parking lots can be hazardous for pedestrians, especially if the hazardous condition is not obvious, as is the case with black ice. If you or a loved one was injured after slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk, an experienced personal injury attorney can explain your legal options.

Natural Accumulation Rule

Under the natural accumulation rule, a property owner has no duty to remove or warn of the dangers of natural accumulations of snow, ice and freezing rain, and he or she is not liable for injuries caused by natural accumulations of snow. In most states that follow the natural accumulation rule, it applies to municipalities, private homeowners, business owners and public sidewalks abutting private property. A rationale for the natural accumulation rule is that natural accumulation of ice and snow is open and obvious and owners or possessors of property have a right to expect that entrants to the land will recognize the danger and proceed carefully. Accordingly, a property owner does not have a duty to warn of icy or snowy conditions that are obvious.

There is an exception to the natural accumulation rule when a landowner knows or should know that ice and snow could have created a more dangerous condition than what the entrant could anticipate. In that situation, the landowner is negligent if he or she fails to remove the ice and snow. For example, if a pedestrian does not realize that the sidewalk she is walking on is slippery and falls, the landowner may be liable for not warning her of the icy and dangerous conditions.

An invitee who falls and injures herself on a natural accumulation of ice or snow cannot simply recover for her injuries, even in states that no not follow the natural accumulation rule. To prevail, the invitee must establish that the landowner had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition and that the landowner's actions (or lack thereof) with respect to the ice and snow created an unreasonable risk of harm. The notice requirement does not apply if the existence of dangerous conditions on the land is reasonably foreseeable given the nature of the landowner's business or the landowner actually caused the dangerous condition (for example, by shoveling or plowing in a negligent manner). If the landowner does not have notice of the condition or has not had a reasonably sufficient time to deal with it, he or she cannot be liable for injuries caused by snow and ice.

Unnatural Accumulation

A property owner is liable if he or she creates an unnatural accumulation of ice and snow or makes a natural accumulation of ice or snow worse. An unnatural accumulation of ice and snow results from the act of a person, rather than an act of nature. To establish that there is an unnatural accumulation of ice or snow, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant property owner created the hazard or added to it, that the defendant knew or should have known of the hazard and the condition was substantially more hazardous than it would have been if it were in its naturally accumulated state. An example of an unnatural accumulation of ice is where water drips or runs out of a gutter and freezes on an area, such as a sidewalk, where the owner should know people will walk. If a person shovels snow into a large pile and it begins to melt and the runoff refreezes, this is also unnatural accumulation.

Snow and Ice Removal

If homeowners or business owners try to remove ice or snow from their property, they must do so using ordinary care. If a landowner tries to remove a natural accumulation of snow and actually makes the condition worse, he or she is liable for any injuries caused by the more dangerous condition. Putting sand or salt on ice is a common way to clear ice, and it is generally evidence of a landowner's reasonable care. If ice, on which salt or sand was spread, later refreezes, it is not considered a worsening of a natural accumulation so as to hold the property owner liable.

In states that do not follow the natural accumulation rule, landowners must take reasonable steps to lessen dangerous conditions within a reasonable time after an accumulation of ice or snow. Generally, it is permissible for a landowner to wait until the end of a snowstorm, and a reasonable time after the storm before attempting to remove snow and ice from outside sidewalks and steps. It is not easy to pin down what a "reasonable time" is, as it will depend on the type of premises, the time of day (if the snow ends in the middle of the night, it is probably reasonable for the landowner to wait until he wakes up the next morning to shovel snow) and other factors.

Conclusion

Accidents involving slips and falls on icy sidewalks or steps are all too common. The inherently slick nature of surfaces covered with ice, snow and freezing rain make walking on these surfaces dangerous. If you slipped on ice in a parking lot, sidewalk or anywhere else, discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney. You may be able to recover damages for your injuries.

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