Now that the snow’s finally here in Central New York, it’s time for this Central and Syracuse New York slip and fall lawyer to blog about New York snow removal liability. When can a property owner be held liable for failure to remove snow and ice that causes a slip and fall injury?
Here are a few ground rules. First, in New York, if it’s snowing fairly hard, a landowner cannot be held liable for failing to remove snow until “a reasonable time after” it stops snowing. This is known as the “storm in progress doctrine”. It is meant to give property owners a kind of grace period while the snow is still falling. New York law deems it unreasonable to require landowners to remove every flake as it hits ground! The doctrine is not limited to blizzard conditions, but also applies in less severe, but still inclement, winter weather.
What is a reasonable period of time after the snow stops falling so that landowners must begin to remove the snow that fell? It depends, and it is generally up to the jury. But let me put it this way — most New York slip and fall lawyers (me included) wouldn’t take a Central New York winter weather slip and fall case, on commercial premises, unless the accident happened at least a half an hour after the snow stopped. And if it happened on a private home walkway, I would want to know whether the homeowner was at work when it stopped snowing. Most juries would find it pretty unreasonable to require a homeowner to come home and clean his walkway when the storm stops while he’s at work.
The storm in progress doctrine is not an iron-clad rule. It is riddled with exceptions (aren’t there always exceptions? That’s what makes law so fun!). Here’s an important one: If you can prove that the slip and fall was caused by OLD ice that was hidden under the new snow, and that the property owner had failed to salt the old ice for some time before the snow storm started, then you can hold him liable. You see, in that case the slip and fall injury was not caused by the newly falling snow that the owner had no time to remove, but rather by old ice that he should have removed long ago.
The law is almost always reasonable. But landowners often aren’t. A property owner who fails to remove snow and ice within a reasonable period of time after the end of a snowfall unreasonably endangers visitors to his property. He or she should, in my view, be held liable for injuries his irresponsibility causes. Fortunately, the law agrees with me.
Reader’s Digest version: Property owner, you can sing “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” while the snow still falls, but when it stops, so must you. Get out the shovel, and get to work.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer Michaels & Smolak, P.C.