Scott M. Kuboff, Esq.
Northeast Ohio Trial Attorney

Understanding Your Rights

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Overcoming Ohio's "No Duty" Winter Rule

If you didn’t notice the parking lot on I-271 or I-480 this morning, winter is here.   As the conditions become slick due to the snow, ice, and slush, it is not uncommon that individuals to sustain significant injuries in slip and falls.  

In Ohio, there is a “no duty” winter rule which comes into play in – you guessed it – winter; and ill typically apply in falls in parking lots, entryways, and sidewalks, to name a few.   However, this “no duty” winter rule does not foreclose an injured individuals ability to recover.   

Before I discuss the winter rule, remember that when the alleged negligence occurs in the premises-liability context, the applicable duty is determined by the relationship between the landowner and the injured party.  Ohio adheres to the common law classifications of invitee, licensee, and trespasser.  An “invitee” is one who enters the premises of another by invitation for some purpose that is beneficial to the owner or occupier.  A “licensee” person who enters an owner’s premises, with permission or acquiescence, for personal benefit.  A “trespasser” is one who enters property without invitation or permission, purely for his or her own purposes or convenience.  

Usually, the injured party is an “invitee” as he or she was injured in a store parking lot or entryway.   In such cases, the owner owes the injured party a duty of ordinary care to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn them of hidden dangers. Additionally, the owner must also inspect the premises to discover possible dangerous conditions of which he or she does not know, and take reasonable precaution to protect the invitee from dangers which are foreseeable from the arrangement or use.

However, in ice and snow cases, the winter rule says “no liability will attach to the occupier of premises for a slip and fall occurring due to natural accumulations of ice or snow, these being deemed open and obvious hazards in Ohio's climate, from which persons entering the premises must protect themselves.”   Thus, in Ohio, a property owner has no duty to remove natural accumulations of ice and snow from private driveways, walks, and steps on the premises. “Natural” accumulation is created by meteorological forces of nature including low temperatures, strong winds and drifting snow.   Conversely, “unnatural” accumulation is caused by the intervention of human action doing something that would cause ice and snow to accumulate in unexpected places and ways or, in other words, man-made conditions.

There are, however, common-law exceptions to the winter rule.   The first exception to the winter rule is where a property owner is actively negligent in creating or permitting an unnatural accumulation of ice and snow.  The second exception to the winter rule is where the property owner has been shown to have had notice, actual or implied, that a natural accumulation of snow and ice on his premises has created a condition substantially more dangerous than what the business invitee should have expected in light of generally prevailing conditions, negligence may be proven.   If an injured party can show either exception applies, he or she can prevail and recovery for their injuries.    As such, it is advisable to speak to an attorney immediately following any unfortunate fall.

In addition to the above exceptions, an injured party may also be able to recovery under a theory of negligence per se if there was a statute or ordinance which requires the removal of snow and ice.  Generally speaking, if a statute or ordinance imposes a specific duty on the property owner to keep the their property in good repair, his or her failure to do so may be actionable.   Here is an example of a local ordinance which could provide an avenue to recover for your injuries: 

No owner or occupant of lots or lands abutting any sidewalk, curb or gutter shall fail to keep the sidewalks, curbs and gutters free from snow, ice or any nuisance, and to remove from such sidewalks, curbs or gutters all snow and ice accumulated thereon within a reasonable time, which will ordinarily not exceed 12 hours after any storm during which the snow and ice has accumulated.  

Some municipalities have similar ordinances, others do not.   As such, if you have been injured as a result of a slip and fall, please contact Scott for a no cost, no obligation consultation and case evaluation.