Winter is upon us. For many, this conjures up warm thoughts of holidays, family, winter sports. By the time mid-January comes around, however, many folks have entirely different feelings about winter altogether. And we know why.
It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s damp. But perhaps most significantly, it can be dangerous. With winter comes snow and with snow comes ice and with ice comes slippery roads and treacherous sidewalks.
Countless people suffer slip and fall accidents on icy roadways, sidewalks and parking lots every winter. And just because they are referred to as accidents doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been prevented.
But how can you tell that slip and fall on ice was preventable and if it was, how can you tell who was liable? These are the issues a court must decide when someone files a slip and fall on ice lawsuit.
Before we get into the details of which party might be held legally responsible in a slip and fall on ice lawsuit, a brief review of the general area of personal injury law may be helpful to you.
First, you should be aware that state law requires that any legal action for personal injury must be filed within two years of the date of the accident.
Generally speaking, personal injury lawsuits succeed when the evidence presented to the court (either judge or jury) demonstrates that the defendant, through action or inaction (negligence) caused the injury to the plaintiff.
To win, you must demonstrate that:
- The party had a duty to conform to a specific standard of care or conduct;
- The duty to conform was inadequately met or breached completely;
- The accident resulting in injury would not have occurred, either directly or indirectly, if the defendant had not been negligent; or
- You suffered actual injury or harm as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
Put another way, if the accident could have been foreseen and the injury therefore prevented, it’s likely that sufficient grounds exist to launch a slip and fall on ice lawsuit in Passaic County. This, then, begs the next question: Who do you file the lawsuit against?
Who is liable?
The correct answer is “the party who owed you the duty of care or conduct.” The identity of that party depends, of course, on the facts of your particular slip and fall on ice lawsuit. The following example illustrates that any number of parties may be liable for an accident that involves a slip and fall.
1. You’re late for a holiday party. You pull into a parking lot in order to quickly purchase a bottle of wine from your favorite store. A heavy snow fell the night before, much of which melted during the day.
However, temperatures dove below freezing tonight and the roads and sidewalks are very icy. Preoccupied, you jump out of your car and before you even take 5 steps, your feet slip out from under you and you land (hard) on your right elbow, breaking it. In this scenario, it seems obvious that the owner of the parking lot would be liable for the damages, right? Not necessarily.
The owner of any premises with public access owes the public a duty to keep those premises safe. In this case, if the parking lot and store are both owned by the same entity, your lawyer would look to that party for recovery of your damages.
In this example, the property owner had the duty to ensure that any snow or ice that posed a risk to the customer was removed or that sufficient warning was provided of the potential risk.
2. If, however, the store was one of many in a mall, it’s likely that the standard of care was the responsibility of the mall owner and not the individual store unless, for example, the lease imposed the obligation for snow/ice removal for each storefront (the walkway leading to the entrance) on the individual tenants.
3. Let’s take it a step further. Assume that the mall owner had the obligation but contracted with a local company to perform the snow /ice removal. Assume further that the snow removal company failed to perform the work required by the contract. That company would most certainly find itself as a defendant in the subsequent slip and fall on ice lawsuit.
It should be noted that any lawyer capable of representing you in a slip and fall on ice lawsuit would probably file suit against all of the parties in our example (store owner, mall owner, snow removal company) to ensure that any and all potentially responsible parties have been named within the two year statute-of-limitations period.
4. Let’s examine one final twist in the above-scenario. The property owner has identified a potentially hazardous area of the parking lot that it has been unable to clean but has, therefore, placed highly visible warning signs and barriers in an attempt to keep the public away.
However, because you were in an extreme hurry, you chose to ignore the warnings and the barriers so that you could take the shortest route to the store. And down you go.
In such a case, the court will examine all the evidence to determine whether you were partially at fault for the accident and, if you were, whether you were more or less at fault than the property owner/store owner/snow removal company (an analysis of what is called “comparative negligence”). Should the court decide you were more than 50% at fault, there will be no recovery for you.
There are, of course, countless other examples of potential liability for a slip and fall on ice lawsuit. A competent slip and fall attorney will help you determine whether your accident and injury entitle you to damages as well as which party will be responsible for paying them.