Who’s at fault for slipping on ice?

Winters in Ohio are brutal. They are full of ice and snow. This is just how it is and Ohio law reflects the inherent dangers we all accept each winter by living in Ohio. Many Ohioans are seriously injured when they slip and fall on ice or snow outside their apartments or at a local store. The question I am asked by these people all the time is “can i sue the store for slipping on ice in their parking lot or sidewalk?” In the context of living quarters, “can i sue my landlord for not shoveling snow or removing ice at my apartment or condominium?”

As a general rule, owners of land are not required to remove ice and snow from the sidewalks or parking lots, and if you are hurt by slipping and falling on natural accumulation of ice and snow, you are out of luck usually. This is called the “natural accumulation” rule, and it is harsh and also surprising to many Ohioans. Now you have to really examine this general rule to understand that there are still many situations where you can collect for your injuries related to ice and snow.

For instance, the rule states you cannot collect for injuries caused by NATURAL accumulations of ice and snow. What if the accumulations are not natural? For example, the ice was caused by a broken water main or a negligently repaired gutter or water splashed by cars onto the sidewalk that turned to ice. In these instances, the ice or snow was not naturally accumulated, but was caused by the actions of people, and a lawsuit could be successfully filed in that type of case. Of course, you still have to prove what caused the unnatural accumulation, that the unnatural accumulation caused your injury, and the landowner knew or should have known about the accumulation. If the ice formed two seconds before you got there, how can you blame the landowner for not fixing the problem. Surveillance footage at a store often helps with proving either actual or constructive knowledge (they should have know) of the landowner.

Even if the snow or ice you slipped on was naturally occurring, you can still successfully sue the landlord or store owner if they had agreed to remove the snow, by contract or by their course of conduct, and did not, and you were hurt by it. For example if your condominium association bylaws requires them to remove snow each morning and they fail to do so, a lawsuit may be successful. However, condominium bylaws that contain “reasonably safe” provisions requiring that the common areas be kept reasonably safe do not create an agreement to remove ice and would not put the condo association on the hook by itself for your injuries.

Also, even if the removal of snow and ice is not required because it is naturally occurring, if it removed anyway, it must be done carefully, and if not, a lawsuit may be successful. Also, if the landowner had superior knowledge of some dangerous condition created by the naturally occurring ice or snow that injured someone, an Ohio personal injury claim may be successful. For example, if naturally falling snow covers a hole in the lawn or sidewalk that the landowner knows about, but a business invitee, such as a shopper would not know about, the land owner can be found liable for failing to fix the hidden danger. The law encourages landowners to protect the public from these hidden dangers and penalizes them if they don’t. Put another way, if the owner of the property is aware of a nuisance and does not abate (try to remove) it he can be found liable.

So you see, while it is true that you cannot usually successfully sue for slipping and falling on ice and snow that naturally occurred, an experienced personal injury lawyer can examine all the facts to determine whether the general rule applies of if there is an exception that would hold the land owner liable for damages. Remember, it does not matter how hurt you are, you still have to prove that the landowner is liable, and that is determined by the ideas discussed below. Don’t be surprised if the store owner says he will not pay because it is naturally occurring snow or ice. They are giving you only a small part of the total story. Don’t give up without discussing the whole picture with someone who has your interests at heart.

As you can see from this simple summary of Ohio law, you should talk to an experience Ohio injury lawyer if you are hurt by ice or snow anywhere, including outside of a store, or at your apartment or condominium.