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Icy Sidewalks Can Lead to Slip and Fall Suits

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Icy sidewalks can be wintry hazards this time of year. They can also trip you up in court, if you're named in a slip and fall lawsuit.

States and local jurisdictions handle icy sidewalk accidents differently, but some general legal principles apply. Here are four legal questions that could affect the outcome of icy sidewalk slip-fall suits.

Who owns the sidewalk?

Slip-fall liability can vary for different types of property owners and occupants.

  • Commercial Property: Businesses must take reasonable care for the safety of customers and clients, also called invitees.
  • Residential Property: Landowners and occupants can be held liable, depending on who controlled the condition that caused the slip-fall accident. In general, the responsible party must take reasonable steps to keep the property safe.
  • Government Property: Special rules apply when a government entity owns property. Slip and fall victims usually must file a claim before a lawsuit can proceed. Laws may also limit the government's liability, or give the government immunity.

What caused the slip and fall?

Slip-fall lawsuits must be caused by a defect in the property, such as improper construction, a building code violation, or a poorly maintained surface. Icy sidewalks fall into the latter category.

Do local sidewalk laws apply?

Some jurisdictions have laws that specifically make a landowner or occupant responsible for keeping public sidewalks clear of ice and snow. Violating these laws usually leads to a fine. Other jurisdictions' laws say just the opposite -- that there's no duty to clear icy sidewalks.

Still others say owners and occupants can wait for a "reasonable time" after a snow or ice storm before clearing icy sidewalks. It's probably a good idea to check with a local attorney about laws where you live.

Regardless of icy sidewalk laws, general negligence principles apply in slip-fall cases. For example, if you start clearing a sidewalk but actually make conditions even more dangerous, you could be held liable in a slip-fall lawsuit.

What remedies are available?

Icy sidewalk slip-fall suits usually seek money to cover economic damages like medical expenses and lost wages. Punitive damages may also be available, depending on the facts of your case.

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