Who's Responsible for Winter Slip and Fall Accidents in North Carolina?
When you picture a slip and fall incident, you may imagine an unmarked wet floor in a store or a broken section of sidewalk as the cause. Slip and fall accidents can happen in numerous scenarios, especially during the winter.
But since no one controls the accumulation of ice and snow aside from Mother Nature, who’s responsible for these accidents?
In this blog, we cover the basics of premises liability law regarding snow and ice in North Carolina and what the law may mean for your potential personal injury claim.
When Does a Fall Qualify as a Personal Injury?
Falls happen every day but not all of these accidents qualify as a personal injury under the law. Usually, to pursue an injury claim, the accident must cause serious or permanent injury. The injury must also have occurred in a situation that could have been prevented by the property owner.
These qualifications are why you may think of wet floors first when you hear “slip and fall accident.” In these cases, if the store owner failed to mark or take care of a potential hazard and a patron slipped, the incident clearly falls into the personal injury category.
After a slip and fall accident, seek necessary medical care. Document all care that you receive so that you can refer back to medical images, doctor’s notes, and your prescribed treatment plan if you file a personal injury claim.
Who Might Be Liable for the Slip and Fall Incident?
In addition to seeking proper medical care after a slip and fall, you must determine who, if anyone, could be considered responsible for keeping the area you fell in safe. Some examples of who could be liable on specific property types include:
- Commercial property, like a department store—property owner, staff members
- Government property, like a federal building—building staff, maintenance staff, government
- Public property, like a park—maintenance team, the city
- Rental property, like an apartment complex—landlord, property owner, tenants, maintenance team
- Residential, like a privately owned home—homeowners, contractors who performed recent maintenance
While the individuals or organizations listed above are technically responsible for keeping their properties safe, you are also expected to exercise appropriate care and follow any posted safety guidelines. For example, if a property has “watch your step” sign posted above doorway, your personal injury claim could fail if you cannot prove that you exercised a reasonable amount of care and still fell.
Some of these individuals and organizations are rarely actually liable under the law. For example, while the government could be responsible for a slip and fall outside a federal building, usually the government as an entity has no control over the conditions at an individual building and therefore no liability for any accidents.
When Does a Snow or Ice Incident Become a Premises Liability Case?
In North Carolina, snow and ice related slips and falls rarely qualify as personal injuries. In most cases, North Carolina law recognizes that a property cannot be held responsible for any accumulation of precipitation or expected to remove all snow and ice at any given time.
However, there are certain situations which are exceptions to this broader law, namely:
- If the property owner aggravated the poor conditions through negligence or reckless action. Many personal injury claims of all types occur because an individual behaved negligently or recklessly. In the case of slip and fall accidents, a property owner could be negligent if he or she failed to notice a broken pipe that caused a hazardous amount of ice. If the owner knew about this hypothetical pipe and intentionally postponed repairs, he or she may be considered to have behaved recklessly.
- If the property owner had a contractual obligation to remove ice and snow. Some property owners, such as business owners and landlords, sign contracts that obligate them to remove winter precipitation. If the ice or snow was not removed within a reasonable amount of time, the property owner could be liable for any accidents that occurred as a result. In this situation, a property owner could be liable for a slip and fall on ice that accumulated for several days but not for snow that appeared overnight because the owner would not have had a chance to complete removal.
- If the property owner overlooked an underlying hazard that was the true cause of the incident. If a hazard on the property in question caused dangerous ice or snow conditions, the property owner could be responsible. For example, a property owner could be held liable for a broken paving stone just like they would be during another season.
Because winter premises liability claims can be complex under North Carolina law, consult with the experienced attorneys at Hardee and Hardee, LLP to determine if you have a claim. Our team can evaluate any injuries you sustained, the property you sustained them on, and any other relevant circumstances to help you take the next best step toward physical and emotional recovery.