Of all the personal injury clients we represent in Indiana, car and motorcycle accidents are the most common. But this is Indiana after all, so winter time slips and falls due to snow and ice also happen all the time. It’s been a mild winter in the Indianapolis area so far, but what happens if someone slips on your icy front sidewalk? What if you slip on ice at the entrance to your local big box retailer?
Falls at homes
In Indiana there is no state law requiring you to shovel your sidewalks, however many counties and cities have implemented ordinances that require occupants of a home or business clear their sidewalks. Marion County, for example, has this kind of ordinance. It requires that snow be cleared off by 7 p.m. if the snow has stopped falling, or 9 a.m. the following day if the snow stops after 7 p.m. The penalty for failing to shovel the sidewalk is a $50 ticket.
Beyond a duty created by a law, homeowners still have some duty to keep their sidewalks in a generally safe condition. Whether or not an occupant of a home shovels their sidewalk, if someone slips and falls there could be a case against that occupant, but it’s not as easy to prove liability as one might think. One issue that plaintiffs run into if they slip is that a landowner is not expected to remedy an unknown hazard. Think of the example of when you shovel your sidewalk but then ice develops after you’ve done it. A classic case of plausible deniability. It would be very difficult for a person who slipped and fell on black ice to prove that the landowner who shoveled the side walk knew the black ice was there. The other issue comes down to whether the homeowner acted reasonably for the conditions. If they run the snow blower & spread salt, they could have a good defense even if ice still developed because they could argue that they acted reasonably.
Falls at businesses
A business is more likely to be held liable for slip and falls on snow and ice. Businesses have the highest standard of care they are supposed to provide to their customers and they generally have policies in place to address property hazards like snow & ice. There are, however, a couple of ways a business could escape liability. First, they could claim that they didn’t know about the icy/snowy conditions. Indiana courts have held that a landowner must have actual or constructive notice of the presence of snow or ice and a reasonable opportunity to clean it up. If a business is notified of snow and ice accumulating at the entrance of their store, that would be actual notice. If an employee looks outside and sees snow and ice falling from the sky that could constitute constructive notice that there will be slippery conditions at the entrance.
Once there is notice, a business has a reasonable amount of time to clean it. What is a reasonable amount of time? It depends on the circumstances. If it is really coming down should they wait until the snow ceases? One Indiana Appellate Court said no. A reasonable amount of time would likely be promptly cleaning up the snow and ice. On the other hand, it would be unreasonable in most circumstances to wait two or three days to clean it up. The business owner should also provide sufficient warning to visitors about the icy conditions.
The last hurdle that Plaintiff’s face is their own knowledge of the conditions. Could you recover for seeing ice and getting hurt while intentionally running and sliding across it? Probably not. In that instance you should have a reasonable awareness for what conditions you may encounter. What makes it difficult in places with a climate like Indiana’s, is that there is a general awareness that snow & ice happen in the winter. That’s why it is important to contact an attorney to assess your premises liability case to give you an unbiased opinion about whether the available facts would support a claim.
In conclusion, if you are an occupant of a home, you have no statutory duty under Indiana law to shovel the snow, but your county may have ordinances requiring you to do so. If you are a victim of an unshoveled sidewalk, you could have a good case against the occupant of the property depending on the circumstances. Your chances may increase if the unshoveled property is a business, but you still have to have evidence that the business knew or should have known of the slick area. Regardless, if you do slip and fall this winter you need to consult an attorney to learn your rights because you should not be responsible for paying for someone else’s negligence.
Be safe out there.