Slip and Fall in Icy or Snowy Conditions – Premises Liability in Winter Conditions
Now that the cold weather has finally arrived here in New Jersey, property owners need to remember that they have a responsibility to guard against slip and fall risks for injuries. Icy and snowy conditions are among the leading causes of slip and fall accidents. Although business owners do have a heavier burden of safeguarding their premises than residential property owners, it is important to know that all property owners carry the responsibility to some degree or other of keeping their premises safe.
When Is a Property Owner Liable for Slip and Falls on Snow or Ice?
Under some circumstances, a person who slips (or falls) and suffers a personal injury due to ice and/or snow may sue the property owner and hold that owner liable for their medical expenses as well as other expenses and losses. There are some situations in which a contractor who is responsible for clearing the premises of snow and ice may also be held liable.
Generally, the owner will be liable if the person who suffers an injury had a right to be on the property and exercised reasonable care as they walked on the slippery surface in question, and if the property owner was negligent in treating the surface, whether it is snow and/or ice.
A property owner has a duty to eliminate safety hazards such as snow or ice within a reasonable amount of time. If the snow and/or ice cannot be removed immediately, the owner must provide adequate warning of the danger. This responsibility extends to sidewalks, parking lots, steps and walkways.
What Must an Injured Plaintiff Prove to Recover Damages?
If an injured person wishes to sure the landowner for damages there are several factors that he or she must prove. First, the plaintiff must show that the landowner had a duty to the clear the snow, ice, or other debris. Next, the person must show that the landowner failed to take sufficient action to remedy the danger or otherwise place others on notice that the danger existed. Third, the plaintiff must prove that the failure to correct or warn about the dangerous condition is both the actual and legal cause for the injury. Finally, the person must prove the their injuries.
While the last element seems self-evident, proving damages in an essential element to this, or any other, case. Even if an individual can prove the first three elements, he or she would be entitled to no damages or nominal damages if he or she cannot show medical costs, lost wages, or other damages due to the injury. Therefore proving this element in a case is essential.
Business Owners and Commercial Property Owners Have a Greater Duty to Ensure Hazards Are Cleared
Because business owners are essentially inviting people to enter their properties, they have a heavier burden to provide safe premises. The courts in New Jersey construe this responsibility as an absolute duty to provide safe premises to their customers. While there are a number of technical common law distinctions that guide this analysis, in Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, the court recognized the trend of moving away from the mechanical application of common law distinctions in favor of more malleable considerations of equity guided by a totality of circumstances test. For instance, if a shop owner is aware that a leaky gutter results in accumulations of ice but takes no action to correct or warn about the condition, he or she is likely to be held liable for injuries that result.
Other Considerations Regarding Slip and Fall Injuries
Some municipalities, though not all, have ordinances that specifically address the responsibilities of property owners and business owners in winter conditions like snowfalls or ice accumulations.
It is also the responsibility of customers or visitors to a residential property to exercise care to avoid getting hurt.
Whether the property owner has exercised reasonable care in a given situation depends on a variety of factors such as the extent and timing of any snowfall; the nature of any efforts undertaken to maintain the premises; the degree of anticipated usage, etc.
If you have suffered injuries in a fall on someone else’s property, contact a premises liability lawyer today. The Law Offices of Joseph Lombardo has been assisting clients in matters such as this in Hammonton and throughout south Jersey since 1993. To schedule a confidential consultation at our Hammonton, Atlantic City, or Linwood offices call (609) 445-4300 today or contact us online.