A slip and fall on ice can result in serious injuries that need expensive medical treatment. If the fall happens outside of an apartment, it can also result in the tenant wondering who is to blame. After all, landlords can’t do anything about the weather, but they do have a duty to keep their renters safe.
Cases like this depend on a legal concept called premises liability. Premises liability holds business and building owners and managers responsible for personal injuries that occur on their property. But this does not mean that a landlord or business owner must pay every time someone gets hurt. The burden of proof falls on the victim to show that there was negligence involved. In the case of a weather-related injury like a slip and fall on ice, this can be particularly difficult.
What is Premises Liability?
Under premises liability laws, people can file a claim for damages from the landlord or management company if they are hurt outside their apartment complex. This can sometimes apply to slip and fall accidents due to icy surfaces. Certain conditions must be met to prove a case, however:
- Only people who belong on the property can seek compensation for injuries. A trespasser, for example, would have no grounds to collect.
- Any claim should target the owner, or if they employ one, possibly the property manager or property management company. The contract between the owner and their service providers will outline who bears responsibility and under what circumstances.
- The most important piece of a premises liability case is proving that there was negligence. In very simple terms, if there is no negligence, there is no liability.
The third condition is tricky, especially when dealing with something like the weather and ice or snow on the ground. Not every injury will result in a settlement. This is why as a tenant, it is important to understand premises liability and when a landlord might be responsible for conditions.
Your Dwelling vs. Common Areas
In general, a tenant is responsible for mishaps within their apartments. For example, if they slip on water in the bathroom, no one but the tenant is liable. If, however, the water in the bathroom was due to a leaky pipe that the landlord knew about and did not fix, the landlord could be liable. This is an example of negligence on the part of the landlord.
Premises liability covers areas that are not individual dwellings such as interior hallways, stairways, and elevators, and outside common areas such as sidewalks and parking lots. When it comes to ice and snow, landlords might be liable if someone slips and falls anywhere on the property, including if snow is tracked into a lobby or hallway creating slippery conditions.
To file a successful claim in these cases, the tenant will need to prove that the landlord either caused the condition, or knew about it and failed to prevent an accident from happening.
Reasons a Slip and Fall Case Might Fall Flat
It is unlikely that a landlord would do something to cause a sidewalk or parking lot to become icy. Instead, these conditions usually happen because of something they failed to do.
The most obvious is not shoveling or putting down a product to melt the ice. But there is no clear cut rule dictating how much snow or ice needs to be present to make clearing it necessary. Or what constitutes a reasonable amount of time to clear it. “Reasonable” is the important word here. Premises liability cases factor in what would be reasonable for the landlord to do or not do.
Is it reasonable to shovel the show and apply ice melt after it snows? Perhaps. But what if the snow happens overnight and someone slips on the way to their car at 5 am? Is it reasonable to expect the landlord to have had it cleared overnight? What if it is still actively snowing and they are shoveling but haven’t reached that part of the property yet? All of these potential scenarios call into question what is reasonable and might cause a claim to be denied.
Proving Liability for a Slip and Fall on Ice
One way to prove negligence on the part of a landlord is evidence that they knew of a problem and did not do anything to mitigate the risk. While they may not be aware of every icy patch on the property, there is still an expectation that they are doing what they can to keep people safe.
Laws in both Illinois and Missouri state that a property owner is not responsible for injuries that occur because of “natural accumulations” of snow or ice. Someone who falls would need to show there was “unnatural accumulation.” This could be something like a sunken section of the parking lot where water continually sits—and freezes when the temperature drops. Or if a hose is left to drip onto the stairs or sidewalk.
It is reasonable to expect the landlord to be aware of situations like these and do one or more of three things:
- Fix the underlying problem (repairing the pavement or the leaking spigot).
- Clear the accumulated ice.
- Place warning signs or barriers around the hazard.
A sign or warning by itself does not exempt a landlord from premises liability. What it will do is offer proof that they were taking some precautions to protect people from injury by alerting them to the danger.
It is also worth noting that while it is generally acceptable for a landlord to wait until daylight hours to clear snow and ice, leaving it for days might be considered excessive and open them up to liability.
If You Slip and Fall on Ice
All personal injury cases hinge on proving that the incident happened, that it was the proximate cause of the injuries, and that it was not the victim’s fault. In addition to getting medical treatment, it is essential to document the circumstances as evidence.
Because of the changeable nature of the weather, taking pictures immediately can be crucial to the case. Valuable evidence can literally melt away if ice has time to melt or someone comes to clear the snow after the accident. In addition, witness statements can paint a clear picture of what happened for the claim or in court.
Most property owners and management companies will have a liability insurance policy to cover these types of accidents at an apartment complex. As with most insurance companies, victims may have a hard time negotiating their claim.
It is always a good idea to contact an attorney for an expert opinion. Hipskind & McAninch are premises liability experts and can help determine if a case has merit, collect evidence, deal with the insurance company, and go to trial if necessary to get you the compensation you deserve.