This was originally posted in December 2010, but we feel it is an important enough topic to share with you again as we begin a new year, and a new snow season!
As I write this, there is a Winter Weather Advisory across half the nation and it brings to mind a very popular risk management question:
Is my business liable for slip and falls in ice or snow?
The answer is maybe, depending on the circumstances.
According to Kelly Maheu’s article, “The Politics of Shoveling” in the March 2010 from Claims Magazine, “In many states there is a `natural accumulation’ rule under which a property owner has no duty to remove or warn of the natural accumulations of snow, ice and freezing rain dangers. He is also not liable for injuries caused by natural accumulations of snow. Generally, this rule applies to private homeowners, business owners, and municipalities alike.”
In Ohio, homeowners and business owners have no duty to clear snow and ice from driveways, sidewalks or parking lots. Homeowners and business owners, however, are liable for unnatural accumulation of snow and ice and will be responsible for injuries, according to Ohio attorney, Brett Goodson, in his February 2009 The Injury Board Blog Network post.
Be aware, however, that this rule does not apply to every state and even when it does apply, a person seeking liability has to prove that conditions were caused by a condition of the property.
“… A person seeking to prove liability must show that a defect in the condition of the property — say, a blocked drain or poor grading around the building - was the source of the accumulated snow or ice,” says Maheu. If the business owner fails to exercise reasonable duty of care for customers, he/she may very well be held liable.
Consider a variety of potential risks
Mindful business operators shouldn’t limit their focus to conditions on the ground when considering perils of bad weather. A clogged gutter or drifted snow on roof edges can cause equally dangerous conditions. Accidents caused by ice cycles and undetectable black ice often result in claims of negligence.
“Missouri law regarding the liability in slip and fall accidents, sometimes called premises liability, rests on the determination of what is ‘open and obvious’ and if the property owner had knowledge a dangerous condition existed, yet did nothing to rectify it,” says attorney Jason Krebs of the Krebs Law Firm LLC in his January 2010 Springfield Injury Law Blog post.
As a best practice, you should be vigilant in identifying potential snow and ice hazards and eliminate or minimize them to the extent possible. If you are unsure of liability or coverage, contact your insurance carrier. If you use a contracted service for snow removal, make sure there are indemnification provisions and that the service provider is adequately insured. Ignoring the dangers of winter weather or leaving customers to fend for themselves may come back to “frost bite” you.
Mark Farrell is the group hospitality operations leader at Westfield and oversees a variety of businesses owned by Westfield Group. In addition to corporate dining and event planning operations, Mark is responsible for the Westfield Country Club, a 36-hole private golf facility, the 64 room Westfield Inn, and 360-seat Blair Conference Center.