Dear Dale: When I came out of a convenience store recently, I slipped on a patch of ice near the door. My fall was caught on the store's security camera and I talked to the store's owner that night. He came out and had more salt put on the icy area. The fall caused me to injure my ankle pretty seriously. Can I sue the store for my injuries?
ANSWER: The quick answer is probably not, but there are exceptions that you should explore before closing the door on a possible lawsuit.
Global warming issues aside, everyone who lives in Ohio knows that they'll have to wrestle with snow and ice over the course of the winter. Though some of my friends - who will remain nameless, but they know who they are - whine about the cold, battling the winter elements is a fact of life in our corner of the world.
The courts wisely recognize this and have refused to impose liability on businesses and homeowners when someone takes a tumble as a result of slipping on snow or ice. The line that you'll see repeated in the case law dealing with these issues is that a landowner has no duty to someone who falls due to a natural accumulation of snow and ice. We all know snow and ice can cause us to fall, so we're expected to use extra caution. This concept holds true whether we're talking about a homeowner or the owner of a business.
So, the rule is pretty absolute. But, as often is the case with the law, there are exceptions that should be examined. If one falls on an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice, a property owner could be liable if the other elements of a negligence claim are present.
What counts as an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice would be fact-specific and different in every case. The rough guideline, though, is that the hazard would have to be man-made. In other words, it's not enough that the wind blew the snow around, causing a hazardous condition. It also doesn't matter if the snow or ice melted and refroze - that's a condition that naturally happens over the course of a winter.
An example of a man-made condition would be an awning that the owner tears and he knows snow and ice build up under the torn area, but does nothing to correct it. Another might be an eavestrough that the owner knows is leaky, causing water to puddle and ice to form on a sidewalk.
The landowner must have created the dangerous condition or known about it and failed to correct it.
So, in your case, you must determine whether your fall was caused by a natural or unnatural accumulation of snow or ice. If it was just icy because of a normal winter storm, you're going to be out of luck.
Dale Emch practices law at the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC, in Toledo. In his column, he will discuss general legal principles and answer readers' questions. Neither Mr. Emch nor The Blade present or intend his column to be taken as legal advice. Readers seeking legal advice should consult with an attorney. Readers should send their questions to Mr. Emch at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dale Emch, 405 Madison Ave., Suite 1200, Toledo, OH 43604.