Determining Liability In Snow, Ice Slip-and-Fall Cases

This was the week for inquiries regarding who is liable for slip-and-fall cases resulting from a  slip-and-fall on snow or ice.  The general rule of law is that a property owner, or those who have the care, custody or control of a property, owes a duty of care to those people visiting their premises to remove and control any hazardous situations.

A defendant who exercises possession and control over a property can be found to be liable for a person's injuries, due to defective conditions existing on this property, despite the fact that the defendant does not own the property.  The thought behind this concept is that the person in possession and control is the person that is in the best position to remedy the defective or hazardous condition.

Generally speaking, in order to prevail in a premises liability case, which results in injuries to a person, you need to establish the following:

1.         The existence of a defect or dangerous condition;

2.         That the defendant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of the defect or dangerous conditions; and

3.         That the defect or dangerous condition had been present for such a period of time that the defendant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have discovered it in time to remedy the defect or dangerous condition.

In addition to these general rules of law, you are then confronted with the Ongoing Storm or Storm in Progress Doctrine.  This doctrine was set forth by the Connecticut Supreme Court, in the leading case of Krause v. Newton in 1989.  This doctrine provides that, in the absence of unusual circumstances, a property owner, in conformity with his duty owed to invitees upon his property regarding the removal of dangerous accumulations of ice and snow, may wait until the end of a storm and a reasonable amount of time thereafter before removing snow and ice.

The Krause Court did not define unusual circumstances and left it to jury to determine whether a storm had ended or whether a person's injuries resulted from old ice or new ice when dealing with separate storms.

At least one Connecticut case holds that an injured party can prove constructive notice, (meaning the defendant should have known of the problem), of an icy condition when it is proven that the temperature was above freezing the day before the injury and falls below freezing three hours before the incident.

This is a complicated area of tort law as there are a number of considerations which need to be investigated when dealing with injuries sustained as a result of a  slip-and-fall on snow or ice including but not limited to:  who owns, maintains or controls the property; whether abbreviated notice provisions apply as a result of town, city or state ownership; whether third party contractors possess any liability; and weather issues.

Given the inclement weather, which includes perils from thawing and freezing, the best advice is to be extremely careful as we traverse these areas and as landowners or possessors, to be very vigilant in shoveling, plowing and sanding all traveled areas to make it safe for those using it.