The law holds property owners responsible for ensuring their premises are safe for the general public to use. This means cleaning up snow, ice, and other potentially dangerous debris that may be on the ground after a storm. If the person fails to maintain a safe condition and someone slips and falls, then the property owner could be held liable for the victim's injuries and damages. However, the continuing storm doctrine is one viable defense that's proven effective at absolving property owners of liability in certain situations. Here's more information about this defense and what can be done to overcome it in a personal injury case.
What Is the Continuing Storm Doctrine?
Also called "Storm in Progress" or "Ongoing Storm" doctrine, the continuing storm doctrine states a property owner has a reasonable amount of time after the last snowflake or piece of hail falls from the sky to clean sidewalks and other areas of snow and ice hazards. Essentially, the owner can wait until a storm ends to do anything about accumulated storm-related hazards.
This is because many courts feel that a property owner shouldn't be forced to make ultimately fruitless efforts clearing debris during impractical times (e.g. shoveling show while it's still snowing). Anyone who is injured during the window of time allowed by the law likely would not prevail in a court case unless the hazard was particularly egregious or unrelated to the storm (e.g. a crack in the sidewalk).
An example of this doctrine in action involves a woman who slipped and fell while exiting a mall due to ice on the ground. The woman felt that because the owner of the mall had put down pellets on some of the sidewalk to provide traction and get rid of some of the ice, the person had a duty to do the entire area.
Unfortunately for her, a lower court found in favor of the mall owner, stating that the ongoing storm didn't provide the owner a reasonable amount of time to clear the hazard. The woman appealed the ruling, but the Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that the mall owner didn't have a duty to keep the premises clear of ice until after the storm had passed.
Another woman lost her case against the city of New York because a storm started at 2pm and her accident occurred at 2:15pm. Even though the woman argued the facility broke its own policy of having mats on the floors to protect people coming in and out of the building, the court ruled the continuing storm doctrine applied because it had just started snowing and the facility didn't have a reasonable amount of time to act.
Is it Possible to Defeat This Defense?
There are two possible ways to defeat this defense and get the court to hold the property owner responsible for injuries caused by the hazardous condition on his or her property. The first is to challenge whether or not the weather conditions were severe enough to constitute a storm. If the snow or hail was too light or infrequent to impede the owner's efforts to keep the area clear, then you may be able to convince a judge the doctrine doesn't apply in your particular case.
Another option is to show enough time had passed after the end of the storm for the owner to take steps to clear the hazard. This may be done by getting a weather report detailing when the storm ended and arguing that by the time your accident occurred, the owner had plenty of opportunity to clear out snow, ice, and other debris and failed to do so.
If you slipped and fell during a storm because someone failed to properly maintain his or her property, contact a personal injury attorney for assistance with litigating your case.