Victim of Slip and Fall on Unnatural Snow Accumulation Has Favorable Verdict Reversed
On February 16, 2007, Annette Barber suffered a fall at a Danville gas station, when she tripped over a mound of piled snow, which was adjacent to customer parking spaces. Ms. Barber filed suit against the owner of the gas station alleging that the Defendant was negligent because it acted or failed to act in one or more of the following ways: a) failed to properly maintain its premises by allowing snow to be piled into an unnatural accumulation near its lined parking spaces; b) failed to warn the Ms. Barber of the dangerous condition upon its premises; and/or c) failed to adequately inspect the premises to prevent an unnatural accumulation of snow. Furthermore, Ms. Barber alleged that as a result of the Defendant’s negligence she was injured and sustained damages.
Generally, property owners have no duty to remove “natural accumulations” of ice from their property. However, one may recover damages for falls on icy sidewalks or parking lots, if one can prove that the negligent design or maintenance of the underlying pavement caused an “unnatural accumulation” of ice. In order to successfully prove such a case, one must prove the following: a) there was an unnatural accumulation of ice on the property, which presented an unreasonable risk of harm to people on the property; b) the property owner knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care should have known, of both the condition and the risk; c) the property owner could reasonably expect that people on the property would not discover or realize the danger, or that they would fail to protect against such danger; d) the property owner was negligent; e) the plaintiff was injured; and f) the property owner’s negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
In August of 2011, Ms. Barber’s case proceeded to a jury trial. Ms. Barber presented evidence that her injury required her to undergo three surgeries, to repair the foot fracture that she sustained as a result of the fall. The Defendant argued that the snow was a natural accumulation and that the Defendant had no duty to warn or protect Ms. Barber from the alleged snow accumulation. However, the jury found in favor of Ms. Barber, in the amount of $496,609.67, and reduced that award by 25%, to account for the negligence that they attributed to Ms. Barber’s actions.
Notwithstanding, the Defendant appealed the trial court’s rulings that led to the above mentioned verdict. In quoting other cases, the Fourth District stated: “…along with snow removal operations like shoveling and plowing, the mere sprinkling of salt, causing ice to melt, although it may later refreeze, does not aggravate a natural condition, so as to form a basis for liability on the part of the property owner.” Furthermore, it noted that: “…shoveling and plowing snow-covered parking lots, along with salting ice-covered walkways, are desirable actions… during the winter months.” The court further stated that since it is rare that such remedial operations can be done perfectly, requiring such perfection would cause an unreasonable burden upon property owners. For these reasons, the Fourth District directed the trial court to set aside the verdict and enter judgment for the Defendant.