Iowa is on the cusp between fall and winter. It is this mixed cold weather that brings new snow and ice that will soon melt, thaw, and refreeze. And, of course, with refreezing comes an increased risk of falling due to slippery surfaces. What can you do to protect your business from a personal injury claim from someone who falls or is otherwise injured on your property?
OWNER’S DUTY OF CARE
Typically, these accidents happen in parking lots, driveways, or on sidewalks outside of businesses. Property owners are required to take reasonable steps to remove snow and ice from any area where visitors, tenants, or the general public might travel frequently, when the snow or ice could create a dangerous property condition. The property owner must take reasonable steps to keep the property safe and hazard-free and to prevent an ice or snow related accident.
To show that the property owner violated this duty of care and is negligent, a plaintiff must prove that the property owner knew or should have known of the condition, that it posed a risk of injury to someone in the plaintiff’s shoes, and that the plaintiff would not observe the condition or realize the potential risk of injury.
VISITOR’S DUTY OF CARE
Just because you own real estate, however, does not mean you are a guarantor of safety to visitors on your property. Visitors have an obligation to exercise reasonable care to detect and avoid dangerous conditions. For instance, a walker’s failure to pay attention to where they are walking could make them partly at fault and reduce or even bar their recovery for damages.
CONTINUING STORM DOCTRINE
When does the duty to remove snow and ice begin if the storm is ongoing? The “continuing storm doctrine” relieves a property owner of liability in connection with the natural accumulation of snow, sleet, and ice as long as no abnormal danger exists and the property owner did not increase the risk. Under Iowa law, property owners can wait until the end of a storm and reasonable time thereafter before removing ice and snow from outside walks and steps.
TIPS FOR PROPERTY OWNERS
There are no hard and fast rules about how much ice and snow there must be to show an owner’s negligence or how much time an owner has to clear the walkways before becoming liable.
When it comes to the build-up and removal of ice and snow, as a property owner, you should make sure to:
- Familiarize yourself with local snow removal laws.
- Have the building and surrounding area inspected periodically for structural problems.
- Consider hiring a professional service to remove snow and ice.
- Check with your insurance company to make sure snow-related injuries and damages are covered by the policy.
This article intends to provide general information on premise liability claims related to winter conditions and is not legal advice.