Ice & Snow Slip & Fall Injuries
Natural accumulations of ice and snow occurring outdoors on various steps and walkways present several different issues relating to the landowner’s liability for slip and fall injuries. Currently, there is split of authority as to whether the occupier of premises owes any duty whatsoever to invitees with respect to the removal of purely natural accumulations of snow and ice. The “no duty” position was originally favored by courts regarding the landlord’s duty toward tenants and invitees injured on leased property. Known as the “Massachusetts rule,” this doctrine continues to be applied today, not only with respect to landlords, but to ordinary landowners and occupants as well. The apparent rationale for this rule is that hazards created by such natural accumulations are equally as open and obvious to the entrant as to the landowner or occupant of the premises, as well as the sheer impracticalities of enforcing such an affirmative obligation.
Connecticut ruleIn contrast to the "Massachusetts rule," the so-called "Connecticut rule" establishes an affirmative duty on behalf of all landowners to keep their premises reasonably safe from natural accumulations of ice and snow with respect to all areas held open for use by tenants and invitees. This rule, presently incorporated into the Restatement (Second) of Torts, has been generally adopted in a majority of jurisdictions.
The justification for the "Connecticut rule"The justification for the "Connecticut rule" is that even though an invitee may have knowledge of a dangerous accumulation of ice and snow on the premises, the landowner, by virtue of extending an invitation for entry by the public, should reasonably anticipate that persons may attempt to enter the premises regardless of the presence of such natural hazards. Even if the "Connecticut rule" is applied, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant had either actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition.
numerous exceptions that may still produce liability for negligence.Even in those jurisdictions that do not initially impose any duty on the occupant of premises with respect to injuries caused by natural accumulations of ice and snow, there are numerous exceptions that may still produce liability for negligence. For example, whenever the defendant voluntarily undertakes the removal of snow and ice from the premises, he must exercise reasonable care in doing so, and may become liable for any subsequent danger which is created. Thus, if the defendant clears ice and snow from a parking lot or walkway by piling it nearby where it subsequently melts and refreezes back onto the cleared surfaces, the new hazard may be regarded as an unnatural accumulation for which the defendant remains responsible.