Falling on a sidewalk is known as a “premises liability “ case due to what we call a “dangerous condition” that existed at the time of your fall. As in all personal injury cases we must prove that some one was at fault: usually that the owner of the area in which you fell was negligent in some way and that negligence was the cause of your accident and resulting injuries. How negligence is proven in a premises liability case – and especially a snow and ice case - can be a bit complex, but the law does help us in certain cases, and snow and ice is one of them.
The owner of the property on which you fell can be held accountable if they knew or should have known about the dangerous condition – here snow and ice – that existed at the time of your fall, if they failed to remedy the situation (or they did remedy it and they did not fix the condition or made the condition worse); or if they failed to warn you or prevent you from walking there. Of course that condition must have been the cause of your fall and injuries. The owner of the property is held to a standard of “reasonableness” under the circumstances: did they take reasonable measures to either prevent or remove the condition that caused your fall. But remember: what is reasonable changes with the facts of each case.
This “known or should have known” standard is called the “notice” provision under the law. Sometimes we do not have to prove notice if the owner created the condition that caused you to fall. Confused? Yes, it can be confusing. So let’s take a look at a fact pattern that may have some common elements with your case and try and make things clearer.
It started snowing sometime in the wee hours of Thursday morning – say 3 a.m. – and continued until Noon that day. John, the home owner, decided to start shoveling his sidewalk at 6 a.m. because he had to get to work and would not be home until later that day. It was bitter cold. He shoveled a path about a foot wide and put down rock salt to clear any ice. He then packed up his shovel and went to work. Along came Tammy at 11 a.m. walking her dog. She was walking along in front on John’s house lost her balance on the path fell on a patch of ice breaking her arm. Who is responsible?
Well, under the ordinances of the City of New York property owners must clear snow from their sidewalks within 4 hours of the ending of the daytime snow fall if that snowfall ends before 5 p.m. If the snowfall stops during the later hours – after 5 p.m. or during the night – then property owners have until 11 a.m. the next morning to clear the snow. In our fact pattern John cleared the snow before he was required to under the law. He even put down rock salt.
So were John’s actions reasonable or did John in fact create the dangerous condition that caused Tammy to fall? In this fact pattern we would take a look at all relevant factors including the size of the path that John shoveled to see if it was sufficient, the temperatures between the time John shoveled and at the time of Tammy’s fall (maybe the rock salt caused some of the falling snow to melt but then it froze over). Maybe if John had left the snow to fall and waited until he got home to shovel the icy condition would not have been present.
There are so many elements to a snow and ice case that must be investigated. We here at The Platta Law Firm use all the tools available to us: weather reports, photograph’s, witness statements, to name just a few – to help prove your case. Our litigation team understands all the intricacies of a premises liability case and the work that needs to be done to help prove your claim. Call us. We are here to help.