Winter weather here in Ohio has been relatively mild so far this year, but undoubtedly we will be seeing some snow and ice soon. Every winter we get calls from people who are seriously injured in falls on icy sidewalks and in parking lots. Many people are surprised that in Ohio, the general rule is that landowners are not required to remove snow and ice from sidewalks, parking lots or driveways. This is known as the “natural accumulation” rule. The rationale for the rule is that the dangers associated with snow and ice are so open and obvious that people are required to protect themselves against falls. Ohio courts have confirmed that the rule applies equally to homeowners and to business owners alike.
If you fall at a store or at your apartment or condominium, and you try to present a claim, the business owner or landlord will probably tell you they don’t owe you anything because of the natural accumulation rule. However, what you need to know is that there are exceptions to the general rule. These exceptions include:
Unnatural Accumulation of Snow and Ice
A business may be responsible for failing to remove snow and ice caused by an unnatural accumulation. For example, a gutter that is negligently repaired, a negligently designed parking lot, or a water main break. Also, if naturally falling snow covers a hole in a sidewalk, and you are hurt because you couldn’t see it, the business may be responsible for failing to fix the hidden danger.
But, even if a fall is caused by an unnatural accumulation, that is not the end of what you must show to recover damages. You must also show that the landowner created the hazard and that the landowner knew about it. Surveillance footage at a store can help with proving this knowledge. (See our prior blog post about documenting your fall).
A Lease or Contract to Remove Ice and Snow
Even if the snow or ice you slipped on was naturally occurring, a business or landlord may be responsible if they agreed by contract to remove snow and ice. For example, if your lease requires the landlord to remove snow each morning, and they fail to do so, the landlord may be responsible. However, it is important to understand that just because a contract says the common areas will be kept “reasonably safe” does not automatically create an agreement to remove ice and would not by itself put the responsibility on the landlord. The contract must have a specific provision.
Negligent Removal of Snow and Ice
If a business or landowner undertakes to remove snow and ice, it can be held responsible if it does so in a way that makes the area more hazardous than it had been without their efforts at snow removal. For example, if a business contracts with a snow removal company to clear its parking lot, and the company fails to properly remove ice and snow, the company may be responsible if you slip and fall as a result.
Contact Rinehardt Law Firm
Although the deck is stacked against victims of slip and falls, there are instances in which a business or landowner is responsible for the harm caused. Contact Rinehardt Law Firm for a free consultation if you are hurt by a fall on ice or snow outside a store or at your apartment or condominium.