WINTER: THE SEASONS OF & SLIP & FALLS
We’re almost through the end of February, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the winter weather is over. While this winter has been particularly flippant, with some days feeling like we’re in the middle of July, while the next we’re back down into the 50’s, we surely cannot say for certain that we’ve seen the worst this winter has to offer.
This particular winter’s weather aside, whenever snow and icy conditions arise, home owners, and particularly business owners, will need to keep in mind the obligations associated with these dangerous conditions – specifically, that when the snow and ice comes, there also comes a responsibility to guard against the risk of slip-and-fall events on your property.
In certain situations, a person who slips or falls on ice or snow and consequently suffers a personal injury, may sue the property owner and hold the owner liable for medical expenses and other losses incurred. In some cases, even a contractor or property manager responsible for clearing away the snow and ice may also be held liable for negligently maintaining the property.
Generally, such a case may proceed if the injured person had a right to be on the property and was reasonably careful as he or she walked on a slippery surface, and if the property owner was negligent in responding to the buildup of snow and ice.
Premises Liability Law & Winter Weather Hazards
Generally speaking, under premises liability law, property owners have an affirmative duty to ensure that their properties are safe for those who visit. They are to eliminate safety hazards within a reasonable amount of time or to provide adequate warning that a hazardous condition exists if it cannot be remediated right away.
The buildup of snow and ice is a hazard that a property owner needs to eliminate or mitigate – such as by shoveling or spreading salt or sand – in a reasonable amount of time in order to prevent slip-and-fall accidents. This includes snow and ice on sidewalks, steps, parking lots and other walkways, for example.
The burden of providing safe premises falls more heavily on business owners than on residential property owners, because businesses essentially ask people to enter their properties vis-à-vis the goods or services they have to offer. These customers are considered business invitees under New Jersey premises liability law and subsequently possess certain rights entitling them to the most protection.
New Jersey courts have indicated that businesses have an “absolute” duty to the safety of business invitees, i.e. customers or potential customers. Likewise, operators of places that are open to the public such as parks, shopping centers, hospitals and apartment complexes with “common” areas also have a duty of safety toward visitors that is that is greater than that of the typical homeowner who, unlike a business, presumably does not entice people onto their property.
In some states, New Jersey being one of them, which regularly gets significant amounts of snow and ice during the winter, some municipalities have ordinances which specify the amount of time after a snowfall or similar inclement weather ends in which a business property owner must take steps necessary to remediate any hazardous conditions and restore the property to a reasonably safe condition.
However, the obligation with respect to premises liability goes both ways. In addition to the property owner’s responsibilities, the person who has slipped, fallen, and suffered an injury also has an obligation with respect to his or her own safety as well. Even an invited visitor to a business or another property is obligated to exercise due care to avoid risks which are reasonably foreseeable.
It is common knowledge that snow and ice present slip-and-fall hazards, especially right after winter weather events, or during periods of melting and refreezing when “black ice” is most common. Unsurprisingly then, someone who was running when he slipped and fell on a patch of ice may have little standing for a lawsuit, or alternatively, someone who chose to wear stilettos while walking on an icy walkway may not have a leg to stand on…
In closing, icy conditions are not something to be taken lightly, and if you or a loved one has been significantly injured in a fall on someone else’s property, please feel free to contact us here at Drinkwater & Goldstein, LLP to receive a free review of your case and an assessment of your legal rights and options.
Content of this article is not the original product of Drinkwater & Goldstein, LLP. Reposted from its original source, here: https://www.dsslaw.com/blog/2014/11/wintry-ice-snow-raise-slip-fall-liability-concerns/