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Premises liability: When is snow and ice accumulation unnatural?

New York is experiencing an exceptionally fierce winter, and slippery parking lots and frozen sidewalks will likely give rise to countless legal battles in the civil courts of the state. However, premises liability lawsuits are not something to tackle without skilled legal counsel. The most challenging part of weather-related claims for injuries is establishing negligence.

To determine whether a property owner neglected a duty to clear hazardous snow or ice, a distinction is made between a natural and unnatural accumulation. A natural accumulation is one attributed to normal phenomena, such as a snowstorm or freezing rain. An unnatural accumulation typically occurs when snow and/or ice contribute to the creation of a dangerous condition, such as dripping icicles causing a sidewalk to be slippery.

Some states use a reasonableness standard in assessing negligence in these circumstances. Would a reasonable prudent person have cleared the slip-and-fall hazards that caused the injuries. Typically, it would be unreasonable to expect a property owner to clear ice and snow during an active storm. Nevertheless, it should be done within a reasonable time after the storm has passed. In applying this standard, a court will consider all aspects, including the prevailing weather conditions at the time of the accident, the elapsed time since a storm and the type of property where the incident occurred.

New York victims of slip-and-fall accidents who believe their falls were caused by the negligence of property owners may seek recovery of damages in civil court. With the assistance of an experienced premises liability attorney, weather conditions at the time of the incident and before the accident can be documented, along with the circumstances that caused the fall. The lawyer can help to establish negligence and present documented claims to the court. Once liability is formally established, claims for specific items of financial damages will be adjudicated.

Source: accuweather.com, "Slip and falls: How to know when you're liable", Kristen Rodman, Accessed on Jan. 5, 2018

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