With winter just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about those snowy and icy sidewalks and parking lots you soon are going to have to face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that falling is the leading cause of nonfatal injury across all age groups except 10-24, where it ranks second. The medical costs for these fall injuries amount to over $34 billion every year, with hospital costs accounting for 67 percent of the total.
While not all of these falls occur on snow and ice, of course, your risk of falling outdoors goes up exponentially in the winter, especially if you are 65 years old or older. Common winter slip-and-fall injuries include the following:
- Broken arms and legs
- Hip fractures
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Neck injuries
- Strains and/or sprains
Right to Sue
When you slip and fall on a snowy or icy sidewalk or parking lot, you have the right to sue the property owner to recover your medical costs, pain and suffering, and a variety of other damages. Depending upon the severity of your injuries, your compensation may range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even higher for permanent injuries or death.
“Storm in Progress” Doctrine
To win your lawsuit, however, you must prove all four of the following:
- The property owner owed you a duty of care to reasonably maintain his or her property.
- (S)he had notice of the snow or ice on the property.
- (S)he breached his or her duty by failing to clean it up.
- (S)he thereby caused your slip-and-fall accident and your consequent injuries.
Be aware that under New York’s “storm in progress” doctrine, a property owner is not liable for your injuries if weather conditions prevented him or her from clearing the property of snow and/or ice.
Surprisingly, an actual snow or ice storm does not need to going on when you fall in order for the storm in progress doctrine to apply. Often it’s enough that the weather was basically lousy, snowing on and off, or even thawing and refreezing due to temperature fluctuations.
Nevertheless, the storm in progress doctrine does not protect property owners who simply let their sidewalks and parking lots sit with snow or ice on them just because it looks like it might snow again. It likewise does not protect those who fail to clear their property properly. For instance, if a sidewalk has been scraped smooth of snow or ice, but left unsalted or otherwise treated, it can be more hazardous to walk on than had it been left covered in snow.
Overcoming the Doctrine
Snow and ice slip-and-fall cases are very fact specific. You therefore need to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can assess the facts surrounding your accident to determine whether or not they fall within the storm in progress protections. Some of the things he will investigate include the following:
- The severity of the storm
- How long it and each of its segments lasted
- Whether and to what extent the property owner attempted to clear off any “old” snow and/or ice
- All other relevant factors
Some typical weather conditions under which plaintiffs have successfully overcome the storm in progress doctrine include the following:
- Only trace amounts of precipitation fell during the two- or three-hour period preceding the accident.
- The snow or ice accumulation that caused the accident was from a prior snow or ice weather event.
- The main storm had passed to such an extent that there was no longer any significant precipitation falling.
- The storm had passed and the property owner had enough time to notice the snow or ice condition and taken the proper steps to clean it off the property.
If you or a loved one slips and falls on a snowy or icy sidewalk or parking lot this winter, please call Richard A. Dubi toll-free at 833-FOR-DUBI (833-367-3824).