Winters in the Northeast are known for their frigid temperatures and record-breaking snowfalls. When snow gets the opportunity to melt on the occasional sunny or above-freezing day, chances are it will refreeze — and in a less-than-ideal location. From sidewalks to parking lots, and from apartment steps to park paths, there are dozens of high-traffic locations that may hide patches of ice. When a patch of ice goes undetected or ignored by city workers or property owners, an innocent passerby could be at risk of slipping and falling on it, and of sustaining serious injuries in the process.
If you are the victim of a slip and fall injury that was the result of a hidden patch of ice, you may wonder if you can pursue compensation via a slip and fall lawsuit. While the answer is technically yes, several factors may affect the strength of your case and, ultimately, your ability to recover full and fair compensation. An experienced snow and ice slip and fall accident attorney is familiar with these factors and can help you determine whether it would be worth your while to pursue a legal claim.
Reasons Snow and Ice Slip and Falls Occur
Though winter weather is often unpredictable, and though property and business owners cannot prevent the accumulation of snow or ice on their land, there are basic precautions they can take to reduce the risk of serious accidents. Those are as follows:
- Remove snow buildup in a timely and effective fashion
- Salt sidewalks, pathways, entrances, parking lots and stairways
- Use warning signs at and near entrances to indicate the presence of wet floors
- Place safety mats at the entrances of stores to collect most of the moisture
If a business or property owner fails to take these basic precautions, the law may hold him or her accountable for any injuries that snow or ice buildup causes.
Common Slip and Fall Injuries
Some slip and fall injuries result in nothing more than a bruised ego. Others, however, could have serious and costly consequences. The latter type of events result in severe injuries, the most common of which include the following:
- Fractures or broken bones
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Neck injuries
- Strains and sprains
When a person sustains an actual physical injury in a slip and fall accident, that injury may necessitate costly and ongoing medical care. Beyond immediate treatment, a slip and fall victim may require therapy, surgery and pain management. Depending on the type of injury a person sustains, it can impact several areas of his or her life. For instance, a broken bone could put a person out of work for weeks to months. A neck or spinal cord injury may result in a permanent disability that hinders a person from engaging in work activities or the hobbies he or she once loved.
All this is to say that physical injury is not the only loss associated with slip and fall accidents. Physical harms often result in other damages, including lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life, to name a few. A legal claim can help to compensate you for these losses and put you on the path to a complete and comfortable recovery.
State Laws Regarding Snow and Ice Removal
In many slip and fall cases, insurers and jurors may look to state law for clarity as to property owners’ responsibilities. Unfortunately, Connecticut law provides little guidance.
According to the law, municipalities may adopt their own ordinances regarding the removal of snow and ice from sidewalks and establish associated penalties. Moreover, the law states that municipalities may grant property owners the right to transfer liability for snow and ice-related damages to adjacent property owners. Many jurisdictions have adopted one or both types of regulations. In jurisdictions that chose not to adopt such ordinances, homeowners generally do not have a legal responsibility to keep the paths in front of their homes in reasonably safe conditions for public foot traffic.
Additionally, few ordinances specify how soon after a snow or ice storm a property owner must clear his or her sidewalks. However, in municipalities that assume responsibility for sidewalk maintenance, the city may become liable for damages that are the result of snow or ice that sits for too long. A few court cases address what is “too long.”
In Cusick v. City of New Haven, the state Supreme Court found that it could not hold the city liable for injuries that the plaintiff sustained because he went for a walk at 6:45 in the morning following an ice storm. The court ruled in the defendant’s favor, as it found there was no way for the city to know of the dangerous condition that soon after the storm, much less have time to remedy it. However, in Schroeder v. City of Hartford, the city left ice sitting on a sidewalk for five days. Five days, the courts found, was sufficient time for city workers to discover the dangerous condition and remedy it.
Finally, state law does not specify how wide of a footpath property owners must carve for passersby. However, it does indicate that if a municipality transfers liability to property owners, property owners then have the same duty of care to keep sidewalks and other paths “reasonably safe” as the city itself.
Factors That May Affect Your Ability To Sue for Compensation
Whether a state or local ordinance works in your favor or not, the courts will consider additional factors when assessing your case. Two major contributing factors in snow and ice slip and fall cases are the “open and obvious” and the “natural accumulation” rules.
The Open and Obvious Rule
Per the open and obvious rule, the courts generally cannot hold property owners liable for any harm visitors sustain on an alleged dangerous condition that was otherwise “open and obvious.” An open and obvious dangerous condition is one that an average person of ordinary intelligence would have detected via a casual inspection. In other words, if a dangerous condition is visible — and if a plaintiff could have easily avoided it — the property owner cannot assume liability for any injuries the ice or snow caused.
It is important to note the open and obvious condition must also be avoidable. If a plaintiff was not absolutely compelled to approach the hazard but did so regardless, he or she has no case. It is also worth noting that the condition cannot be unreasonably dangerous. If it is unreasonably dangerous, the defendant may not be able to skirt liability regardless of how obvious the condition was.
The Natural Accumulation Defense
Another defense plaintiffs must overcome is the natural accumulation defense. To have a snow or ice-related slip and fall case, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the slippery hazard existed as a result of the property owner’s negligence and not of a natural accumulation. The theory behind this rule is that property owners cannot be responsible for an onslaught of snow or sleet Mother Nature throws their way. They can, however, assume responsibility for a puddle caused by a leaky pipe.
Steps To Take To Protect Your Rights After a Slip and Fall Accident
As you can see, you have several obstacles to overcome if you hope to file a successful slip and fall case that stems from snowy or icy conditions. Though proving negligence in these types of claims is difficult, it is not impossible. It may, however, require the help of a seasoned slip and fall lawyer. If you or a loved one is the victim of a slip and fall accident, contact Gould Injury Law to schedule a free case assessment today.