, °F

Personalized Forecasts

Featured Forecast

My Favorite Forecasts

    My Recent Locations

    Slip and falls: How to know when you're liable

    By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
    January 25, 2016; 4:47 AM ET
    Share |

    As winter unfolds, spills on frozen sidewalks and slippery parking lots will commence legal battles across the nation.

    "Weather-related, slip-and-fall cases are extremely common," President of the Massachusetts Bar Association Douglas Sheff said.

    Notably frequent in the Northeast and Midwest due to the area's high average wintry precipitation, slips and falls can result in everything from minor injuries to serious head injuries, brain injuries and even death, according to Sheff.

    Each year practitioners and forensic meteorologists work on numerous slip-and-fall cases, but because the laws regarding these cases vary by state, there are significant gray areas within the legal statues.

    So how can someone know when they are liable if someone falls on their property or outside their business?

    As workers salt icy sidewalks, a woman walks carefully, early Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, outside the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    "Traditionally, many states had a rule that you were able to recover for slip-and-fall injuries resulting from unnatural accumulation," Sheff said.

    Unnatural accumulation includes instances in which snow and ice were crafted into a potentially hazardous situation from something other than a natural phenomenon.

    For example, these cases could include dripping icicles that made a sidewalk icy or plowing that made an area dangerous, opposed to snow falling from a snowstorm.

    However, due to the confusion surrounding when an instance can be considered natural versus unnatural, some states, including Massachusetts in 2010, decided to change their standard to the test for reasonableness.

    It was something that everyone could understand, Sheff said.

    The reasonableness standard judges an individual's actions in light of what an average reasonable person would do. If their actions fall outside this, it is considered unreasonable.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather winter weather center
    Shoveling snow increases risk for winter heart attacks, experts say
    Definition of a blizzard

    Both businesses and personal properties have to follow the reasonableness standard, but this standard takes all factors of a circumstance into consideration, especially the weather conditions at the time of the instance in question.

    It's important to figure out what the weather was doing at the time of the fall and what had been going on in the period before the fall, AccuWeather Forensic Meteorologist Steve Wistar said.

    While an active storm in progress can prove, in some cases, to be a viable defense for not shoveling, leaky drain pipes or dripping rooftops that cause an icy walkway could make a business or homeowner liable.

    The melting and refreezing that goes on prior to a snowstorm can also cause liability issues if walkways, driveways and parking lots are not salted in a timely manner, according to Wistar.

    One of the biggest assumptions that can land a person in a courtroom for a slip-and-fall case is that their legal responsibility ends at their property line.

    "Don't think that just because you are at the end of your property that you don't have some additional responsibilities," Sheff said.

    In many states, even adjacent spaces can fall under the jurisdiction of the bordering owner.

    Due to the legal ramifications a lawsuit can have on a homeowner or a business, the best way to protect oneself from a lawsuit is to simply be practical.

    "As soon as it's practicable, go out there and clean it up," Sheff said.

    For more information on how to protect yourself from this kind of lawsuit, see the tips below from the President of the Massachusetts Bar Association Douglas Sheff.

    Tips for protecting yourself against a slip and fall lawsuit:

    1. Make sure the business is well-insured, a $1 million insurance policy won't cover a multi-million dollar injury.

    2. Keep snowblowers, shovels and salt handy at all times.

    3. Make sure all employees are trained and knowledgeable to act reasonably.

    4. During a snowstorm that lasts for multiple hours, get out there and shovel in a lull period.

    5. If shoveling isn't an option, contract with a local plow company before the storm.


    Report a Typo

    Comments

    Comments left here should adhere to the AccuWeather.com Community Guidelines. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.

    More Weather News

    • 6 ways to prepare now for hurricanes

      October 1, 2016; 6:59 AM ET

      The worst thing that people who live along coastlines can do is not to prepare for tropical storms and hurricanes.

    Daily U.S. Extremes

    past 24 hours

      Extreme Location
    High N/A
    Low N/A
    Precip N/A

    Weather Whys®

    This Day In Weather History

    Louisiana Bayou County (1893)
    Hurricane generated storm wave - killed 2,000. 12-foot tides; central pressure 970 mb; 100+ mph winds.

    Southeast (1989)
    Two-day Deluge of Rain Table Rock, SC 7.01 inches Anderson, SC 5.44 inches Highlands, NC 9.91 inches Atlanta, GA 5.85 inches Athens, GA 9.03 inches

    Yuma, AZ (1990)
    A total of one inch of rain in 15 minutes with hail one inch in diameter.

    Rough Weather