Slipping on Ice on Private Property: Do You Have a Lawsuit?
Though the exact number of injuries that stem from falls on icy sidewalks, driveways, steps and porches is unknown, these types of injuries are so commonplace that the CDC actively warns against them. It also encourages property owners to do what they can keep their walkways and steps clear of ice, snow and other types of moisture accumulation by using de-icing compounds. Lack of diligence or maintenance could lead to an injury, which could result in a slip and fall lawsuit.
Though slip and fall lawsuits are often successful, they are complex and difficult to prove. If you or a loved one slipped on ice on private property and sustained injuries in the process, it is important that you understand your legal rights. Your understanding can help you decide whether to pursue a premises liability claim and give you an idea of the type of evidence you need to gather to strengthen your case.
Common Slip and Fall Injuries
One of the most essential elements of any personal injury claim is damages. If you do not have any actual damages — meaning, you did not sustain any injuries that require medical treatment or for you to miss work — the property owner has nothing for which to compensate you. That said, while many slip and fall injuries result in nothing more than a bruised bum and ego, many others can and do result in severe and costly injuries. Some of the most common types of injuries that trigger premises liability lawsuits are as follows:
- Broken bones and fractures
- Joint dislocation
- Head and brain injuries
- Spinal cord fractures
- Neck and back injuries
Each of these injuries necessitates costly medical care. In many cases, victims must undergo surgery, take prescription medications and engage in physical therapy and other forms of rehabilitation. Often, injuries are so debilitating that they prevent injured persons from engaging in work activities and, therefore, from earning a living.
Until they experience one themselves, many people cannot comprehend the gravity of a slip and fall. Statistics from the National Floor Safety Institute, however, do a good job of expressing the severity of these types of accidents. For instance, falls are the leading cause of accidents each year, accounting for approximately 8 million hospital visits. For elderly people, falls are the first and second leading causes of death.
For working-aged individuals, 22% of slip/fall incidences result in at least 31 days of lost work. Employee slip and fall events alone cost U.S. businesses $70 billion in medical costs and lost compensation annually. People who sustain disabling injuries due to falls can expect to face up to $300,000 in out-of-pocket costs each year.
The bottom line is that slip and fall injuries can be costly. As such, many are deserving of a lawsuit.
Property Owner’s Duty of Care
Damages are just one element of a slip and fall claim. In addition to showing that slipping on ice resulted in costly injuries, you must also prove that the property owner owed you a duty of care. The type of duty a property owner owes you depends on what category of guest into which you fall.
A licensee is a person who either has permission to enter and remain on private property or who receives an invitation to do the same. Connecticut law sets forth specific landowner responsibilities as they pertain to natural conditions, such as ice. If a landowner
- Knows about a dangerous condition;
- Realizes that it poses an unreasonable risk to licensees;
- Has reason to believe that a licensee will not discover the condition on his or her own, and;
- Either invites a person or allows an individual to remain on the property without taking reasonable care to make safe the condition or to warn the licensee of said condition and the associated risk, then
The landowner may be liable for any injuries that arise because of the condition. Landowners do have immunity, however, if they make their property available for recreational use.
Property owners owe invitees the highest duty of care. An invitee is a person who enters a property for business purposes and for either the exclusive benefit of the landowner or the mutual benefit of the landowner and the invitee. The law recognizes three types of invitees:
- A business invitee, such a landscaper, plumber or electrician
- A public invitee, who is a member of the public who receives an invitation to enter and/or remain on the land for a specific purpose
- A social invitee, who is similar to a licensee except the landowner extends to him or her an actual invitation to enter and/or remain on the land
Per state law, landowners have a heightened responsibility to keep invitees safe. For instance, property owners must inspect their premises for hazards and, if necessary, erect safeguards prior to inviting guests onto their land. If a reasonable inspection would ordinarily reveal a hazard, landowners must either warn guests of said hazard or correct it. Failure to take reasonable measures to keep guests safe may result in legal liability for any injuries a defect causes.
Connecticut property owners owe very little duty of care to trespassers. The only real responsibility landowners have to trespassers is to refrain from causing them intentional harm. Possessors do not have a duty to warn trespassers of dangerous conditions, known or hidden. However, this changes slightly once a landowner becomes aware of a trespasser’s presence.
Landowners do have a duty to either correct dangerous conditions or erect a barrier around them if they have reason to believe that children will trespass on their land. However, the danger must be such that it creates an unreasonable risk of serious bodily harm or death to a trespassing child.
Reasonableness and the “Natural Accumulation” Rule
When it comes to ice-related slip and fall accidents, reasonableness and the “natural accumulation” rule may come into play. For instance, if you file a lawsuit for your injuries, the courts will consider the reasonableness of both your and the landowner’s actions or inactions. If you slipped on an icy sidewalk because you were out walking in the middle of an ice storm or immediately following a storm, the courts will unlikely rule in your favor, as it is unreasonable to expect property owners to maintain their premises in adverse conditions. Moreover, the law grants home and business owners a reasonable amount of time to remove ice following a storm before their risk for liability increases.
Say, though, that a property owner leaves a patch of snow to sit, freeze, melt and refreeze for an unreasonable period. If you slip on that patch of melted snow and sustain an injury, you may have a case.
In addition to reasonableness, the courts may consider the “natural accumulation” rule. Per this rule, plaintiffs may have a hard time holding property owners accountable for injuries that result from the natural accumulation of snow or ice.
How To Secure Your Rights to Compensation
Slipping on ice is a very real risk that residents of Connecticut and the northeast face each winter. Though the law does provide for a path to recovery for slip and fall victims, several provisions make the path to compensation complex. If your accident resulted in severe and life-altering injuries, and if you want to increase your chances of obtaining a successful outcome, entrust your case to a slip and fall attorney who has the experience and know-how to protect your rights to the maximum amount of compensation. Contact our team at Gould Injury Law to schedule your free initial consultation today.