For many residents and guests, Washington, D.C. is known as a walkable city. At the same time, the District gets its fair share of winter weather. Thus, the winter months always bring about an increase in the number of Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accidents due to snowy and icy conditions.
Generally, Washington, D.C. landowners (including the government) have a duty to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. The case of snow and ice is no exception, and landowners should take the necessary actions to clear their property of hazardous snow and ice. Of course, property owners cannot be responsible for immediately clearing snow as it falls, so the law provides a 24-hour grace period. However, after 24 hours, a landowner can be liable for injuries that occur due to snowy or icy conditions on their property.
Weather-related slip-and-fall accidents frequently raise a number of unique issues beyond those that typically arise in a premises liability case. A recent case illustrates one court’s distinction between the “natural” and “unnatural” accumulation of snow. While Washington, D.C, premises liability law does not draw this same distinction, the local law is similar in that courts focus on the landowner’s knowledge of the hazard and the appropriateness of their actions in remedying the hazardous conditions.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff set out to go shopping at a mall a few days after a winter storm. Evidently, there was still snow on the ground, but the roads had mostly been cleared and other motorists were out and about, so the plaintiff thought it safe to travel.
As the plaintiff exited her car and walked through the mall’s parking lot, she slipped and fell on the ramp leading up to the sidewalk immediately outside the mall’s entrance. After she fell, the plaintiff noticed a grainy substance that she assumed to be either sand or a deicing agent. The plaintiff also noticed a heap of snow atop the ramp that looked as though it had been intentionally piled.
The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the mall, arguing that it was negligent in maintaining the area, or, in the alternative, for failing to warn visitors of the dangers. However, the court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, explaining that under state law a landowner is not liable for “natural accumulation” of snow or ice on their property.
The plaintiff argued that by applying sand or a deicing agent to the snow, and by piling the snow atop a ramp that was intended for pedestrians, the mall created an unnatural accumulation. However, the court explained that an unnatural accumulation “refers to causes and factors other than inclement weather conditions.” The court also noted that landowners who shovel, plow, or apply deicing agent do not turn a natural accumulation of snow or ice into an unnatural one. The court reasoned that holding otherwise would discourage landowners from taking the necessary steps to make their property safer for visitors.
Have You Been injured in a Washington, D.C. Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or someone you love has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you have sustained. Depending on the nature of your accident and the extent of your injuries, this may include significant amounts for your medical expenses, lost wages, as well as the emotional pain and suffering you endured as a result of the accident. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule your free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Can Family Members Be Named as Defendants in Washington D.C. Slip-and-Fall Cases?, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 4, 2019
Assumption of the Risk in Washington, D.C. Sports Injury Cases, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, February 19, 2019