WINTER OF ICE – 2015

The months of January & February, 2015 were full of ice storms causing havoc on the roads and a nightmare for pedestrians. The property owner is responsible for cleaning snow and ice off their premises. When a pedestrian falls on snow and ice on a property, the property owner may be liable. The property owner is not automatically responsible to pedestrians. There is no duty of the property owner to keep their premises free of snow and ice during a storm. The property owner must have reasonable time to clear the snow and ice after the storm has stopped. Many municipalities actually have statutes that gives the property owner a set number of hours to clean their property after a storm (i.e. 4 hours, 6 hours, even as much as 12 hours.)

In an article in The Journal News on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 by Bill Cary sets forth “tips for homeowners” listing the kind of salt for icy driveways, sidewalks or decks. The article states many homeowners use rock salt which is terrible for lawns, gardens and trees. Rock salt also eventually makes its way into reservoirs, streams and lakes as storm water runs off. Instead of using rock salt, homeowners should use calcium chloride or “safe salt”. It does not create poisons and it does not eat away at bricks or concrete. The use of sand is also necessary (especially when the temperatures are in the single digits) as other salts do not causing melting but sand can create a coarse surface to make the ice less slippery. A property owner can be held liable to an injured party if they clean the area but do not use sand or salt. This would be considered an incomplete clearing of ice and snow and the injured party can have a successful recovery against the property owner.

This especially applies to commercial properties in parking lots of stores or malls. In most of these cases, the commercial property owner can be held liable along with the snow plowing company if they attempt to clean the area but fail to salt and sand the area. The snowplower can also be held liable for improper removal of snow and ice by making large piles of snow which later melt and refreeze causing icy conditions.

The above article also discussed using the right tools for ice removal. A snow shovel does not cut it in clearing ice after an arctic blast of cold air. You need to use an old fashioned tool called an ice chipper.

Another area where ice is created and can cause liability on the property owner is from ice dams at the edge of the roof line. When ice dams form at the edge of the roof, water gets pushed back up the roof creeping under shingles. When fluctuations in temperature occur, the ice forms and turns to water. The water leaks from the roof and gutters and then refreezes. Water runs over the gutter edge onto the property on steps or sidewalks and icing develops. This would be considered creating a dangerous condition which the property owner can be liable for the condition. The article recommends electric tape and heat wires that can wrap around the bottom edge of the roof to encourage ice melting that drips right into the gutters. If a homeowner has such a condition and gutters freeze, thaw and overflow and cause an ice condition and the property owner fails to use the heat wires when they knew about the condition, they will be held liable to people who fall on the ice created from the gutters. Our office presently has a case against a homeowner who had ice dams and ice in the gutters that thawed and dripped onto the outside front steps of the house. Our client, a relative of the homeowner, was leaving the premises and walked down the front steps (that was under the roof gutter) and fell on ice created on the steps closest to the house. Our client left the premises carrying his infant child, walked down the front steps (there were 6 steps) and slipped on the ice falling down the icy steps and causing multiple fractures of the leg requiring surgery with pins, plates and rods into the shattered leg. Our theory of liability was that the homeowner knew of the icing on the edge of the roof and in the gutters that cause water to overflow onto the steps and refreeze. In our case, no sand or salt had been applied by the homeowner on the steps. Thus, the homeowner can be liable for creating the icy condition and failing to apply sand or salt, causing the client to fall down the steps and become injured. The remedy to this condition was to install low voltage electrical wires so that cables run inside the gutter and down the leaders “so that nothing ever freezes” and no condition can form.

In the same paper, The Journal News of February 3, 2015, published an article by Nancy Haggerty called “icy path sends dozens to doctors”. The article interviewed a well known orthopedic group in Westchester called Somers Orthopedic who sees 100 or more patients a day as a result of falls on ice. The problem (according to Dr. Stuart Styles) is not the first day of a snowstorm but the days that follow when snow melts and refreezes. The article points out the vast majority of ice fall patients are younger as older people tend to stay indoors in icy conditions.

Injures can be much worse. The article points out Ann Mara died in February from a head injury suffered two weeks earlier during a fall on ice outside her Rye home. No lawsuit can be started as she fell on her own property. In 2003, Robert Atkins, a cardiologist, died more than a week after hitting his head after slipping on ice in early April in New York City. Director of Traumatic Brain Injury Service at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, New York estimates he sees 4 – 5 people a year who suffered traumatic brain injuries from falls on ice. Dr. Ron Nutovits, Chairman of the Emergency Department at New York Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital Center in Cortlandt stated that from the snow and ice storms at the end of January, 2015, he saw a 300% increase in patients attributing to outdoor falls on snow and ice suffering multiple fractures.

If you, or someone you know, have been injured as a result of a fall from snow or ice, call the Law Office of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800.