In Central New York and the Southern Tier, winter storms often turn walkways into treacherous paths for those visiting local businesses and stores. Many people slip and fall on icy sidewalks or snow-covered walkways, raising questions for property owners about their role in preventing these accidents.
Understanding the legal obligations and safety measures essential for maintaining hazard-free premises in the winter can help keep visitors safe. It can also protect property owners from costly liability for injuries.
Property Owner Liability in New York State
New York law mandates property owners keep their property safe from hazards for visitors, invitees, and residents. This means proactively managing risks by regularly inspecting their premises and promptly addressing or warning of dangerous conditions. This includes removing snow and ice and maintaining walkways, steps, and other areas frequented by visitors in a safe and navigable state.
If they neglect this duty and you get hurt in a slip and fall, you can take steps to hold the owner responsible for damages, including medical bills and lost wages.
Common Winter Hazards
In New York, property owners and managers must be mindful of winter hazards and the necessary precautions to safeguard visitors. Here are a few common dangers to pedestrians and the consequences of failing to address them:
- Icy walkways: Icy conditions on walkways present a risk of slipping. This risk is heightened by visible and hard-to-detect black ice, making falls more likely. It’s the duty of property owners to remedy these icy surfaces. Neglecting to do so can result in legal responsibility for accidents.
- Slippery parking lots: Parking lots can turn dangerous due to ice, particularly when snow melts during the day and refreezes overnight. Owners who fail to maintain these areas could be legally accountable if accidents happen due to the icy conditions.
- Accumulated snowfall: Accumulated snow can hide obstacles or irregular surfaces, creating tripping risks. Property owners who do not consistently remove snow from their premises could encounter legal issues if someone gets injured because of hidden hazards.
- Compacted snow: Snow repeatedly trodden upon can become compressed, forming a slippery surface. Property owners who fail to address this issue, particularly in areas with heavy foot traffic, may be liable for any slips and falls on their property.
- Unnatural hazards: Unnatural property conditions present extra risks, such as water flowing from a spout that forms an icy area or an uneven sidewalk collecting water that turns to ice. Property owners are responsible for addressing these issues because they increase the chances of slips and falls. Failure to do so could make them responsible for injuries sustained by visitors.
Tips for Property Owners to Prevent Winter Accidents
Property owners should take proactive measures to prevent accidents related to snow and ice. Below are key steps and recommended strategies to ensure the safety of visitors and minimize the risk of liability:
- Prompt snow and ice removal: Regularly shovel walkways, driveways, and parking areas and apply de-icing agents like salt or sand to prevent ice buildup and reduce slip hazards.
- Use of de-icing materials: Apply a de-icing product to walkways like sidewalks and door entrances evenly before snowfall and after clearing snow.
- Proper signage: Install clear signs to warn of slippery areas, especially where ice might form or snow removal is underway. This helps visitors navigate safely.
- Regular maintenance checks: Consistently inspect the property for potential hazards, such as icicles forming on rooftops or uneven surfaces that could become more dangerous in icy conditions.
- Safe snow piling: When removing snow, ensure it doesn’t obstruct visibility or create new hazards, such as blocking emergency exits.
- Gutter and downspout maintenance: Keep gutters and downspouts clear to prevent water from spilling and freezing on walkways, which can create hazardous ice patches.
- Anti-slip measures: Consider installing anti-slip surfaces on stairs and high-traffic areas, and provide mats at entrances to reduce moisture indoors.
- Emergency plan and supplies: Develop a strategy for handling extreme winter conditions, ensuring you have essential items such as additional de-icing agents, shovels, and emergency contact information in the event of an accident.
- Stay ahead of winter conditions: Closely monitor weather forecasts to anticipate challenges and treat surfaces promptly.
- Block off untreated areas: Block off sections that can’t be adequately treated to prevent access. This ensures that pedestrians are directed away from unsafe areas, minimizing the risk of injuries.
If you’ve slipped and fallen on an icy or snowy walkway, contact our New York slip and fall attorneys at Catalano Law. We can investigate your accident, determine if the property owner was negligent in their duty of care, and help you file a compensation claim.
Our legal team can protect your rights after a slip-and-fall and help you get a fair settlement for your injuries. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.