Snow Day or Lawsuit?
Whether a homeowner or business owner is held liable if someone slips and falls on their property on a snowy day can depend on various factors, including the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the incident. I grew up in Canada, therefore winters were filled with heavy snow on the streets, and slipping was an everyday occurrence. Now I live in Oregon, and although it is much less cold, we have our fair share of snow days yet many residents remain unprepared for the aftermath. This results in people slipping and injuring themselves. Laws vary from state to state, but here property owners have a legal duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition.
Property owners are generally expected to take reasonable steps to prevent slips and falls, such as clearing snow and ice from walkways and applying appropriate de-icing materials like salt. The specific standards for reasonableness may vary based on local laws, the nature of the property, and the severity of the weather conditions. In Portland, there is the Portland City Code 17.28.025 which states that “owner(s) and/or occupant(s) of land adjacent to any street” in the city of Portland are “responsible for snow and ice removal from sidewalks abutting or immediately adjacent to such land, notwithstanding any time limitations”1 . Property owners may also be required to have notice of the hazardous condition before they can be held liable. For example, if a property owner had ample time to address the snow or ice accumulation but neglected to do so, they might be considered negligent.
In some jurisdictions, the concept of comparative negligence is applied. This means that both the property owner’s and the injured party’s actions or negligence may be considered when determining liability. If the injured person was found to be partially responsible for the accident, their compensation might be reduced accordingly. If you can demonstrate that your fall injury was the result of negligence, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit to pursue compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Personal injury cases such as these rarely make the news and can be settled in court but there are lawsuits such as Papadopoulos v. Target Corporation which changed a code in Massachusetts regarding abandoning the natural accumulation standard.2 The plaintiff slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot of the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers in front of a Target department store. He then filed a suit with the superior courts against Target Corporation since they controlled the land he fell on. In Massachusetts, there was a rule that a property owner is not liable in tort for failing to remove a natural accumulation of snow and ice which has come to be known in the treatises and the courts of other jurisdictions as the “Massachusetts rule.” This demonstrates that a suit following an injury can change future laws.
I believe that in the State of Oregon, if there is a risk of injury due to the natural or superficial occurrence of ice and snow on their property, it is the responsibility of the owner to take care of it. It snows enough here to realize that there is a danger to the public if the streets are not properly maintained. However, if it becomes the city’s property, then the suit must follow accordingly.