Ice Slip and Falls: A Closer Look
Whether you are ready for it or not, winter is coming to the Keystone State. Every year, a staggering one million Americans slip and fall on snow or ice. Back injuries, broken bones, and head injuries are the most common wounds. These falls often have psychological effects as well. For example, many older fall victims are so afraid of falling again that they essentially become voluntary invalids.
Due to the serious nature of these visible and invisible wounds, a personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation for these victims. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme cases.
Area of Responsibility
Most snow/ice slip and falls occur on commercial property. Different entities usually control different areas of these properties.
Generally, specific stores are in charge of common areas, like sidewalks and parking areas, which are adjacent to the store. The landlord usually controls other common areas, such as the bulk of the parking lot. These same rules apply in other contexts, such as a planned community. Individual homeowners are usually responsible for the area immediately surrounding their houses. The city is usually responsible for other streets and sidewalks. The homeowners’ association is usually responsible for common areas, like a recreation area.
Duty of Care
Most states, including Pennsylvania, use a victim classification system rooted in common law to determine legal responsibility in these situations.
- Invitees: These individuals have direct or indirect permission to be on the property, and their presence benefits the owner in an economic or noneconomic way. Because of these things, the owner has a duty of reasonable care to keep the premises reasonably safe from ice and other fall hazards.
- Licensees: These individuals have permission to be on the property, but there is no benefit to the owner. A guest of a hotel guest is probably a licensee. Because the relationship is more distant, owners only have a duty to warn licensees about latent (hidden) dangers. Black ice is arguably a latent hazard.
- Trespassers: If the victim had no permission to be on the property and there was no benefit to the owner, the owner usually has no duty. Tales of injured burglars who successfully sued homeowners for damages are mostly urban legends.
Legal responsibility, or the lack thereof, is usually a question of law which the judge must decide. Knowledge of the hazard, another necessary element of a fall claim, is normally a question of fact for jurors to resolve.
Owners are only legally responsible for damages if they knew, or should have known, about the ice patch or other fall hazard.
Direct evidence of actual knowledge could be security camera footage which shows an icy patch on the ground or a report of such a hazard. This evidence usually surfaces during the discovery process.
Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) usually involves weather and history. If there was any recent freezing precipitation in the area and the location is prone to ice accumulation, that’s probably enough to establish constructive knowledge.
Connect with an Experienced Attorney
Schedule a free initial consultation with the personal injury attorneys at the O’Donnell Law Offices by calling 570-821-5717 or going online today. We serve clients in Kingston, Wilkes Barre, Hazleton and Pittston. There are no fees or costs until we win your case.