Winter weather not only brings treacherous driving conditions to the roads, but also to parking lots, sidewalks and walkways. Ice(especially black ice) creates potential hazards in otherwise safe environments. The important question is – If you happen to slip and fall on ice and sustain an injury, is someone liable for recovery costs? Seeing that every situation is different, let’s take a look at how liability is determined when winter-related slip and fall accidents occur as well as important information you should know if you decide to file a personal injury claim.
Duty of Care Regarding Property Owners
Similar to the duty of care principle that drivers must abide by when they’re driving in winter weather conditions, property owners must also exercise the same reasonable care to maintain areas of their property where people are expected to be. This is not only true for businesses, but also for homeowners. Failure to adhere to this legal duty of keeping one’s property safe within a reasonable amount of time by removing snow or salting icy areas can be considered negligence. The main question to consider is whether or not the property owner’s conduct was reasonable given the specific situation. The public is also responsible for taking precautions when walking in areas they know will be snowy or icy. Failing to do so can reduce the chances of recovering costs from injuries in a potential lawsuit.
The Natural Accumulation Rule
In areas where winter weather is common, property owners may be protected by the Natural Accumulation Rule. This rule makes it difficult to prove the property owner’s liability as long as the property owner acted reasonably to make their property safe, and there were no abnormal dangers present. What is considered reasonable depends on where the accident occurred. For example, what is considered reasonable in Cleveland will be different compared to a city that sees far less winter weather, like Atlanta.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Natural Accumulation Rule does not cover hazards that were created by man made elements like leaking water pipes (which can cause ice build-up in cold weather) or damaged roofs. These issues are deemed fixable and are the property owner’s responsibility. If you are injured from slipping and falling due to winter conditions, it’s highly recommended that you consult a personal injury lawyer in your area in order to understand the property laws and Natural Accumulation Rule for where the accident happened.
Documentation is Important
Weather conditions can change quickly, so if possible, document as much as possible about where you slipped and fell, what the area looked like, what surrounding areas looked like, and take pictures for reference. If there happened to be witnesses present, get their contact information so your attorney can contact them. The more details you have about the accident and injuries, the better chance you have of proving your case. Even if the details you have or remember seem insignificant, write them down anyway. They might be useful in the future.
What You Can Recover from a Slip and Fall Accident
If you are injured from slipping and falling due to winter weather, you may be able to recover the medical costs needed to treat your injuries as well as lost wages from missing work during your treatment and recovery. If you do try to recover lost wages, it’s vital to have solid documentation from a doctor stating the severity of your injuries and why you were unable to work over a period of time. If your injuries are severe, there’s also a chance to recover for pain and suffering. Pain and suffering claims can be filed if your injuries had a negative impact on your personal life and/or activities such as exercising or other leisurely pursuits.
What constitutes liability for slips and falls in winter weather will vary from case to case, depending on the circumstances and where the accident happened. Documenting the accident is very important when attempting to prove that the property owner did not do their part in keeping their property safe for the public. If you are ever injured from slipping and falling, be sure to take detailed notes about what happened, take pictures of the area, and take down contact information from any witnesses. Most importantly, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to review your claim and options.
About the author: Brandon Duber, a Partner with Bentoff & Duber Co., LPA, is a lawyer with proven experience in the courtroom and expertise in the areas of workers’ compensation, criminal defense, personal injury and medical malpractice law. He received his B.A. from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY and his J.D. from The Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, OH.