With the official start of Winter arriving, New Yorkers know the inevitable northeast snowfall is right around the corner. When visiting retail locations in the inclement weather, shoppers should be aware of the property owner’s liability for snow removal in case of a slip and fall.
The responsibility of a property owner in New York City to remove snow and ice from their premises is governed by the New York City Administrative Code. The law places a duty on a property owner to maintain their property in a “reasonably safe condition.” For a property owner to be liable for a slip and fall, the accident must have occurred because of dangerous or defective condition. In determining whether snow accounts for a dangerous or defective condition, New York Courts have held that the mere presence of snow is not enough. The snow must accumulate to a level of being hazardous.
Even once there is a presence of what is determined to be “hazardous snow,” the property owner may not still be liable for a slip and fall on their premises. Just like most slip and fall accidents, the owner must either have created the condition themselves, or were aware of its condition. While it may seem obvious for property owners to be aware snow is falling, it is often difficult to determine just how much snow will be dumped on their property after a storm.
The most likely way property owners find themselves liable for accidents that occur on their property is when they affirmatively act to remove the dangerous snow or ice. When removing snow from the premises, the owner must assure that they are doing it in a manner that doesn’t create more hazardous conditions. For instance, if an owner shovels the driveway leading up to the door, but places it on a nearby stairway, they can be liable for creating the dangerous condition.
Aside from taking affirmative actions, the property owner can be liable if they had knowledge of the hazardous condition and failed to act. Knowledge of the owner comes in two forms: actual and constructive knowledge. Actual knowledge is when the owner is alerted of the condition. This could occur through oral or written contact from another that there is a dangerous condition. Actual notice can also be claimed if there is proof that the owner observed the hazardous condition. Constructive notice is met when after a period of time, a reasonable owner should have been aware of its existence and taken steps to fix it. This usually requires proof that there was a dangerous condition, it was visible and apparent, and it had existed for an adequate length of time before the accident as to alert the owner of the need to remedy it.
In attempting to defeat slip and fall claims, there are several defenses that a property owner may raise. The first is that the condition was “latent” or difficult to discover. Black ice is often argued as being “latent” because it is difficult to see, and therefore would not give sufficient knowledge of a hazardous condition. Another defense to liability is that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. If a condition was so “open and obvious” then the property owner will argue that the plaintiff should have been aware of the condition, and therefore is also at fault for creating the accident. This will usually not rid the owner of his liability in its entirety, but it will decrease the amount of fault they are facing.
Another defense that the property owner may raise is referred to as the “storm in progress” defense. There is a recognition in most jurisdictions that it is unreasonable to expect a property owner to shovel snow while it is continuing to snow. To be successful under the defense, a property owner must have begun the removal within a reasonable time after the storm. If there is a break in the storms, the court will apply a reasonableness standard to see if removal should have ensued during the break. Some areas such as New York City have regulations requiring owners to begin removal no later than four hours since the end of the storm. Under the same regulation, if the snow occurred overnight, the owners have until 11 a.m. the following day to remove the snow.
When going out during or after a snowstorm, individuals must be aware of their surroundings. Under New York law, a property owner’s liability for their handling of inclement weather can bring about complex litigation, so contacting a personal injury immediately is recommended.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall at due to snowy conditions, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. There may be time limits in which injured persons may file a personal injury lawsuit. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Georgaklis & Mallas, PLLC are dedicated to helping victims and families recover compensation for their injuries. Call us today for a free consultation at (718) 238-2400 or (212) 779-2400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.