We will all be glad to forget the record snow falls this past winter when the last mound of snow and ice on our properties has melted away exposing green grass and clear sidewalks. However, let’s not forget that just because there were record snowfalls, property owners are not excused from their legal responsibility to visitors of their property. A property owner has “a duty to act as a reasonable person under all of the circumstances including the likelihood of injury to others, the probable seriousness of such injuries, and the burden of reducing or avoiding the risk.” Clearly record snow falls will factor into whether a person acted reasonable in all of the circumstances.
In this case a visitor to a home was walking at the top of the driveway where people were expected to walk towards the side entrance to the home. This became the primary entrance, as the front door in the front yard was blocked off by snow. The ice condition at the top of the driveway was treacherous, as water which came from melting snow on the roof was directed into this area by a down spout, where the water collected and froze, layer by layer, day by day. We refer to this as “meltwater ice.” It is virtually impossible to get any traction to keep your footing on “meltwater ice.” Reasonable care would require a homeowner to either remove this ice, sand and salt the area, apply ice melt and if feasible, redirect the down spout to an area where people are not expected to walk, such as behind the bushes or into the side yard.
This visitor walked on this treacherous ice hidden beneath newly falling snow. The visitor went flying in the air sustaining a comminuted fracture of the leg which required a rod being permanently hammered into his leg to give it support. It was so slippery that responding EMT’s had difficulty getting to and removing the visitor as he lay on the frozen ground. One look at the down spout discharging meltwater into this area told the story. The homeowner obviously knew treacherous ice accumulated there, avoided it and took no steps to make the area safe for visitors. We resolved this case short of trial for $190,000 for our client with the homeowner’s insurance company.
You may not be able to remove all of the ice on your property but you need to take reasonable care in all the circumstances to provide a safe path where visitors are expected to walk. Identify the areas where your downspouts create meltwater ice. If possible, spend the money needed to redirect the down spouts. In any event, make sure to at least clear the area with salt, sand or ice melt. An affordable ounce of prevention can save someone a lifetime of pain and disability from a fall on treacherous meltwater ice.
– Steven M. Ballin, Esq.