Winter in Albany and Upstate NY means there’s always a chance of snow and ice around the corner, and snow and ice mean there’s always a chance someone will slip and fall. And unfortunately, slip-and-fall accidents are all too common, as evidenced by the large number of slip-and-fall personal-injury claims filed each year.
Although the bar is set fairly high to establish that a defendant’s negligence or failure to take reasonable care of a property caused the fall, some claims result in significant jury awards or, more commonly, settlements.
So, if you’re a homeowner or the sole occupant of a rental property, it might be a good time to check on your arsenal of shovels and bags of salt. If you’re an owner or facility manager of a business with a building and a parking lot, you might already have a contract in place with an independent plowing service. And even if you aren’t personally responsible for clearing any sidewalks, steps, driveways, or parking lots, ’tis the season to take extra care for your own safety when walking on them.
The Burden of Proof
If you are somewhere other than your workplace, and you slip and fall on ice or snow on a sidewalk, stairs, or parking lot, you may have a claim against whoever is responsible for the upkeep and safety of the property. You will need to establish proof that the accident happened and that you suffered injuries. Remember, evidence of a slippery area can vanish in one sunny afternoon. If you can, take a cell-phone photograph that clearly shows where you fell, with enough visual context to prove its location. Depending on the severity of the victim’s injuries, this can be done by a quick-thinking companion. If there are witnesses, try to collect contact information. Later, you can submit medical records to document your injuries.
Of course, you will have to prove that the property owner, manager, or tenant either created the conditions that caused your fall or was negligent in the failure to remove or mitigate those conditions. No one can be expected to remove treacherous conditions during a snowstorm in progress. In New York State, many municipalities’ codes establish the time frame allowed for snow removal; in Albany and Schenectady, for example, snow and ice must be cleared within 24 hours of the storm’s end.
Even if snow is cleared in a timely fashion, temperature fluctuations can cause icy conditions from melting and refreezing. And water draining onto a sidewalk or parking lot will freeze at low temperatures. Liability stemming from a fall on ice in these situations may depend on whether the owner was given actual or “constructive” notice, the latter referring to conditions that are present long enough for the owner to reasonably know that a dangerous situation might exist.
Even if you can establish that you fell and sustained injuries due to slippery conditions that should have been addressed, the defendant’s attorney will look for evidence that you shared at least some of the blame: that you were trespassing, talking on your cell phone, wearing improper shoes, failing to stay on the cleared portion of the sidewalk, etc. And since New York is a “comparative negligence” state, a jury can diminish any award proportional to the amount of negligence you are assigned.
If you are injured at work because of a slip and fall on snow or ice while walking on steps, walkways, or a parking lot of your workplace (or on the lobby floor made slippery by the accumulation of melting snow), in most cases you should file a Workers’ Compensation claim to cover your damages. In New York, the Workers Compensation law does not allow an employee to sue the employer because of negligence that caused an injury.
***If you or a family member has suffered a personal injury in or around Albany due to negligence leading to a slip and fall in icy conditions, LaMarche Safranko Law can help. Contact us at (518) 982-0770 or online.