It’s been a very cold and icy winter in New York. Our unusually bad winter has led to a surge in snow- and ice-related accidents throughout the City. According to a New York Times article published last month, emergency rooms have experienced as much as a 300 percent increase in injuries that appear to be weather-related. However, even in these tough and dangerous conditions, property owners and municipalities still have an obligation to keep public sidewalks, parking lots and walkways safe for pedestrians.
Proving Actual or Constructive Notice
When someone slips and falls on someone else’s property, the property owner may be found negligent in the maintenance of the property, and therefore liable for accidents that occur due to their negligence. To pursue a personal injury claim, the injured person has to show that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition, and had a reasonable opportunity to act.
A defendant may have actual notice of a dangerous condition if there is evidence that they were actually aware of the dangerous condition. If water accumulates into a puddle in a store and a customer complains, that would constitute actual notice of a dangerous condition. The store then has a “reasonable” amount of time to correct the dangerous condition, otherwise they are liable for any subsequent accidents that occur because of the dangerous condition. (Different juries sometimes have different opinions about how much time is a reasonable amount of time to clean up a spill.)
A defendant may have constructive notice of a dangerous condition if the defendant should have known about the dangerous condition. If a sink in a restaurant is leaking and has been for some time, the restaurant should be aware of the leak. If someone slipped and fell on a puddle caused by the leak, the restaurant had constructive notice because they should have known that the leak would cause a puddle, which could cause a slip and fall.
In the case of a leaky sink, it may be difficult to keep the floor safe until the sink has been fixed. However, building owners can at least be expected to put up a sign indicating that the floor is wet or place a mat near the sink to improve traction.
The “Storm in Progress Doctrine” in New York
Slip and fall cases that involve adverse weather are similar in many respects to other slip and fall cases, but different in one important respect: the “storm in progress doctrine.”
In New York, property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice that accumulates in parking lots and walkways on their property, as well as adjacent sidewalks. However, in a state that contains seven of the top ten cities with the highest annual average snowfall, it would be unreasonable to expect property owners to constantly keep their properties and adjacent sidewalks clear of snow and ice.
When a person slips and falls during a storm, defendants argue that plaintiffs should expect the ground to be slippery (arguing that the slipperiness is “open and obvious”), even if there is no sign indicating that it is. If it’s snowing outside, you don’t need a sign to tell you that the ground might be dangerous to walk on. Following this line of argument, courts have essentially absolved property owners of liability for falls that occur on their property or on adjacent sidewalks while a storm is in progress.
Property owners can, however, be found negligent if they do not clear snow or ice from walkways on their property or on adjacent sidewalks during a “reasonable” amount of time after a storm. As a guideline, § 16-123 of the New York City Administrative Code requires property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks and public walkways in front of their property four hours after a storm ceases, and until 11:00 a.m. when the storm occurs overnight.
Slip and Fall After a Storm: Concluding Thoughts
After a snowstorm, property owners have constructive notice of the dangerous conditions that may have been caused by the storm because they should know about the dangerous conditions. As in any slip and fall case, they are given a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation. Otherwise, property owners can be held liable for incidents that occur due to snow and ice on their property or on adjacent sidewalks.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in slip and fall, you may want to consult a New York personal injury attorney experienced with slip and fall cases. At the Schlitt Law Firm, we would be glad to answer your questions and assist you. There is never a charge for the consultation. You can call us at 1-800-660-1466 or email us.
Written by Patrick Jones and Carol L. Schlitt
The Schlitt Law Firm
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney. Remember, past results do not guarantee similar outcomes in the future.
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