Image: Lee Jordan/creative commons
Yes, it's true; most slip and fall cases - despite what you may have been told - will end up being dismissed.
In order to understand why, though, it requires reviewing what a property owner's responsibilities are in terms of liability for the personal injuries sustained by people who may have slipped and fallen on their property.
By way of background, here are a few primary principles governing negligence:
The General Rules
- Property owners, while not full guarantors of their guests' safety, are still required to maintain their premises in a safe condition;
- On the other hand, property owners will not be held liable for the injuries of a third party that were sustained at their premises unless the plaintiff can demonsrtate one of the following three (3) things:
- That the defendant had actual knowledge of the defective condition, yet failed to timely remedy it before the plaintiff's accident (in legal terms, this is commonly referred to as 'actual notice,' and as a practical matter, this is extremely difficult to prove);
- That the defendant had "constructive notice" of the defective condition, i.e., that they, in the exercise of proper diligence, should have known about the defective snow and ice condition but failed to remedy it in a timely fashion; or,
- That the defendant actively caused or created the defective and/or hazardous condition. An example of this would be where they do a rather poor job of shoveling.
Why Most Slip and Fall Cases Fail These Tests (& Therefore Lose)
There is an important caveat here, which is why it is often quite difficult to prevail on a personal injury claim that arises from a slip or trip and fall over snow and ice:
The defendant property owner cannot be held liable unless a reasonable amount of time has passed from the cessation of the storm.
In other words, as long as either rain or snow is still falling, and for a significant period of time thereafter, no property owner can be held negligent for failing to clear their property of the snow or ice.