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Recovering for Slips on Snow and Ice

Written by Daniel B. Brill

Person walking on snow-covered sidewalk

When a property owner fails to remove snow from their walkways and parking lots, they are creating a highly dangerous situation. While the term “slip and fall” has been made fun of in movies and T.V., it is no laughing matter. When a person slips on ice and falls, their injuries can be severe. The most common injuries people suffer are fractures. That said, if a person falls backwards and strikes their head, they could develop a brain bleed. Because slipping on ice creates such a high risk of serious injury, the law mandates that property owners maintain their properties in a safe condition to avoid a slip and fall.

For the injured person, their slip and fall comes out of nowhere. One minute they are walking on the sidewalk, the next they are on lying on the ground. But for the property owner, this slip and fall may not be some freak occurrence. If the property owner didn’t do their job by shoveling the snow or salting the ground, slips and falls are a reasonably foreseeable event that they should have prevented.

Property owners in Connecticut have a duty to remove snow from areas that a person is reasonably expected to walk on. This includes driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots. Property owners must employ persons or contract with a company to remove their snow in a prompt manner. There are industry standards about snow removal that should be followed. If a property owner fails to remove snow or salt the ground after snowfall, and someone gets hurt, they are responsible to pay for those injuries.

That being said, property owners are afforded a reasonable amount of time to clear snow from their property. They do not have to begin snow removal until after the snowfall has stopped. This is called the “storm in progress” doctrine. And it makes sense. A property owner shouldn’t have to catch the snow as its falling and clear it. But once the snowfall stops, the property owners can’t sit on his hands. After a reasonable amount of time, people will begin walking on sidewalks and parking lots.

Property owners must clear snow before it gets hard and difficult to shovel. The problem with not clearing snow promptly is that if the temperature goes above freezing, the snow will melt. Then if the temperature gets cold again, the melted snow will re-freeze as ice. Temperature fluctuations are the most common reason for black ice – those clear sheets of ice that are hard to see and easy to slip on. For the property owner, it’s pretty basic – clear the snow in a reasonable timeframe and then salt the ground. This will eliminate any threat of black ice forming. The longer a property owner waits, the more “constructive notice” they have that a dangerous condition exists. In other words, the more time that passes, the law presumes that the property owner “should have known” about the slippery condition.

If you’ve fallen on black ice, you may have a claim for compensation. You will need to gather evidence. Taking pictures of the defect that caused you to fall is absolutely essential. If you cannot say with specificity what caused you to fall, there is no case. You must pay attention to whether it was black ice, hardened snow, muddy snow, and so on. This is because there is a difference with new snow and old snow. If the snow has just fallen, the property owner might not have had sufficient time to clear it. If the snow is old, then they were negligent by not clearing it. Old snow may have mud or footprints in it.

Finally, if you slipped on a sidewalk owned and maintained by a municipality, you can only recover if the defect was the “sole proximate cause” of your injuries. This means that the jury must find the municipality was 100% at fault for causing your accident. If you are even the slightest bit at fault – maybe you weren’t wearing the proper shoes – then you cannot recover.
As you can see, slips on snow and ice are a surprisingly complicated area of law. If you’ve fallen on snow or ice, you should contact an experienced and qualified personal injury attorney to determine whether you have a case or not.