A caller to Law Talk in the local Fall River area brought up a situation in which he was walking on the sidewalk of a commercial structure and did not notice black ice causing him to slip-and-fall on their property. There are many commercial structures in downtown Fall River and in Corky Row District, such as Davol Mills, Giesow Building, and Flat Iron Building. He asked that since he chose to walk on their sidewalk is there a good enough cause to file a personal injury case?
Attorney Steven Sabra, of Sabra and Aspden Law Offices, replied that the question is if the sidewalk is a public sidewalk or the sidewalk for the business? Sometimes a business will have a public sidewalk which can make matters tricky. In the case where the municipal ordinances say the abutting property owner has to clear the public sidewalk, the courts have said that those municipal ordinances are there but for the purpose of the city or town to basically assess a fine if the property of the abutting property owner does not clear the sidewalk.
If they do not clear the sidewalk and you fall on that public sidewalk it does not mean you can use the violation as that statute to say that it is evidence of negligence and therefore have a claim against the property owner.
For example, if black ice is present due to a gutter being directed onto the sidewalk by the owner, then the owner would be responsible for any problems or claims that may from their negligence. In this situation, a person would have a good case against the abutting commercial property owner because they have created this hazardous condition.
However, this is not the end of the issue because the next part of the case would ask, is if there was a duty of care and if the duty of care was breached. Ultimately, that is up to a jury to decide because the jury might feel that they would not expect the property owner to constantly be outside laying down salt and sand. The case can also turn against the person who fell because there is always an issue of if the victim should have seen it. With black ice the victim would say no, they could not. But then it goes back to the property owner whose rebuttal would be if the victim could not see it, and I could not see it and I laid down salt and sand in the morning and the victim fell later in the day, what more is required of me to do?
Could the property owner have prevented the accident? Whether you slipped and fell on black ice or due to faulty construction on a sidewalk, you have to consider the property owner’s point of view. Imagine it as if this were your home or commercial property that someone else has fallen on. Would you as a reasonable property owner have seen the cause for your slip and fixed it or cleaned it up? If it was due to black ice, is it reasonable to think a property owner would have seen it and done all they could to rid their pathway of black ice for people walking by. Also, did they do everything within his power? Did they shovel all the snow? Was there sand or salt put down to break up the ice? Was it caused by rain, or something that is of his or her fault, like a broken gutter causing an unnatural accumulation of ice on the pavement? These are all factors to consider. While it is not right to think the property owner should constantly be out clearing the sidewalks of any natural accumulation of snow or ice, it is their duty to clear it as best as they can or get someone to do it. If there is a foot of snow on the sidewalk and it has not snowed in days, it could then possibly be the property owner’s fault again for not keeping their sidewalk well-kept and safe for pedestrians.
Is the property owner is maintaining reasonably safe conditions? Make sure that the property is kept in good, safe, and secure condition. If there is any sort of issue such as a damaged sidewalk, faulty wire, broken gutter, unlocked gate, or any other risky condition, take care of the situation and warn anyone who you expect to be on your property of the hazardous conditions. Also, make sure that anything kept in bad condition can be visibly seen and observed by others on your property.
How is the property owner liable for slip-and-fall accidents? There are three conditions in which the property owner is responsible for a fall-down accident.
The first is if the property owner should have known of the hazardous condition on their property. This would be considered by a jury based on if they think a reasonable person would have known about the hazard and fixed it to keep others safe. Next, is if the property owner did know of the poor condition and refused to fix it. Lastly, if the property owner caused the dangerous condition that led to another person’s slip in any way.