With the winter months come snow and ice in many parts of the country. And, of course, with snow and ice comes an increased risk of falling due to the wintry conditions. What are your rights if you slip and fall due to snow and/or ice when in a public place?
Accidents like these typically happen in parking lots or on sidewalks outside of businesses. It is almost universally true that property owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care when it comes to maintaining these areas and promptly removing snow and ice to reduce the risk of falls and injuries.
Often, property owners will have contracted with plow companies that perform snow and ice removal to keep their parking lots and sidewalks clear for pedestrians. Still, whether it is the owner performing these maintenance and cleaning activities, or a company hired by the owner, there is a duty of care to anticipate the dangers posed by snow and ice, and to maintain the property accordingly. The question to ask is whether the property owner's conduct was reasonable considering all of the circumstances.
However, members of the public also have a duty to exercise reasonable care when walking in an area they know (or should reasonably expect) will be snowy and/or icy. Failing to do so may either reduce your recovery in a potential lawsuit or bar any recovery completely. The effect that the injured person's own negligence will have on a slip and fall case varies depending on the jurisdiction.
When it comes to snow and ice removal, what is reasonable to expect of a landowner -- and what a person using the sidewalk should reasonably expect to encounter -- may depend on where the slip and fall accident occurred. In other words, what is reasonable in Minnesota is not the same as what is reasonable in north Alabama.
And in some states, there is what's known as a "natural accumulation" rule, which relieves a property owner of liability in connection with the natural accumulation of snow and ice, in most cases. As long as the property owner didn't interfere with or alter the accumulation, and as long as no abnormal danger exists, it will be difficult to hold the property owner liable in states that follow this rule.
If you slip and fall, you may be able to recover the cost of your medical bills by suing the property owner and perhaps even the contractor who was responsible for clearing away snow and ice. You could also recover lost wages if you can demonstrate that your injury (and perhaps doctor's appointments associated with it) caused you to miss work -- or to work less during your medical treatment than you otherwise would. In addition, you may be able to recover for the pain and suffering that the injury caused you. In addition to the pain of the injury itself, you can also recover for their negative impact on your regular activities, such as exercise, chores, or leisure pursuits like playing on a sports team. All of these effects are components of your damages.
Because weather conditions change frequently, it is important to document as much about the area where you fell as possible. If you can, take photos or send someone to take photos of the area as it looked around the time of the accident. Snow and ice are typically cleared on a regular schedule, so you want to make sure that you can give your attorney an idea of how the area looked when you were injured.
Be sure you to write everything down after the accident and talk to accident witnesses to help your case.
If your fall occurred on government property (such as a county parking lot or city sidewalk), there are special rules that might affect your case. Governmental immunity may affect your ability to bring a lawsuit or your ability to recover even if you can sue. In most cases, you'll need to jump through some administrative hoops by filing a notice of your injury with the government agency that might bear liability, and you'll need to get this claim filed pretty soon after the slip and fall accident.