Slip & Fall Information Center
NJ Slip and Fall Accidents on Snow or Ice
For those of us who live in New Jersey, the "excitement" of Winter comes with the territory. Unfortunately, winter becomes more challenging when the weather impacts our ability to get around. Icy roads, sidewalks and parking lots threaten our safety whenever we venture out, whether we're driving to work or simply walking to the corner store.
Icy and snowy conditions are among the leading causes of slip and fall accidents. The hazard is sometimes not apparent to us (for example, black ice), we can be in a hurry and, what's worse, we are don't walk in the same normal way we do under normal conditions because we're "being careful." If you or a loved one was injured after slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk or parking lot, anywhere in New Jersey, experienced personal injury attorney Francis M. Smith P.C. in Mountainside, New Jersey, can explain your rights and, if appropriate, your legal options.
When we look at winter slip and fall accidents, we're almost always dealing with the answer to a serious question: could the accident have been foreseen and the injury prevented? More often than not, this involves an assessment of whether the property owner had a specific duty to the injured person to conform to a standard of care and, if so, whether that duty was carried out.
SHOULD I GET A LAWYER OR NOT? Before we get into the particulars of establishing liability for slip and fall injuries on ice in New Jersey, be aware that if you are injured in a slip and fall accident pursuing your legal options has an expiration date. New Jersey law requires that you commence legal action within two years of the date of the accident. If you do not, you will likely be prevented from seeking any legal remedy through the court system, no matter how severe the injury is or how negligent the property owner may have been regarding the conditions that caused the accident. You are well-served to determine your rights and the owner's responsibility as soon after the injury as possible.
It's important to understand that if you make the claim yourself (that is, without the help of an experienced attorney), you will be contacted by the insurance company for the owner or operator of the place where you fell. The folks at the insurance company handle claims for a living. They are in business to minimize the exposure of the company or owner of the premises left in an unsafe condition (and the insurance company they work for!). They are trained to do that and dedicate their lives to it.
Are you equipped to handle a claim on your own behalf? Do you have any experience? Have you done it before? Do you know the law that applies and your privacy rights? They have done all this for years, day in and day out. Most of them, believe me, are only information gatherers. They never promise to compensate you at the end of their "investigation". They only say they are there to investigate and pay "meritorious claims". What are the chances they will find that your claim has any merit? It should be no surprise that after they have gotten from you all the information they can, after they have gotten from you signed authorizations to get all your medical records (relevant to the accident and not!) and an authorization to get wage and employment information about you (authorizing them to see parts of your employment history even you haven't seen) - they usually deny the claim or offer such a ridiculously low amount to settle the case that you are deeply insulted.
So what does an attorney do for you? First and foremost, having an attorney will get the insurance company off your neck. The insurance company is not allowed to contact you (and take advantage of your lack of experience and knowledge) after they know you have a lawyer. In my office, I gather the information we need to evaluate a case and provide it to the insurance carrier in a professional polished manner. When considering ice-related slip and fall cases, what do we need to prove to move forward with a case on your behalf?
First, we need to gather fact that will establish liability for your injuries. (Allow me to comment here that insurance company representatives will never share information about where you fell or the company responsible- they only gather information, they do not provide you with any, including the incident report about your fall or the video of your fall and the conditions causing the fall.) In general, establishing liability requires a finding that the owner of the property is truly responsible for your injury, either because they took action or failed to take an action that allowed a dangerous condition to exist. Liability may be established if one of the following is found to exist:
- The owner (or other person responsible for the premises) caused the dangerous condition by, for example, failing to carry out a legal duty which, had they done so, would have eliminated the risk.
- The owner knew about the dangerous condition and did nothing to remove it -or the dangerous condition was a recurring foreseeable event.
- The premises owner should have known about the dangerous condition because it would have been apparent to a "reasonable" person who would have taken action to correct the condition that caused the accident.
Simply establishing that the property owner may be liable is not, in and of itself, a guarantee that you would prevail in a legal action you commence. The courts will look at your conduct (behavior) to determine whether you were acting in a reasonable and prudent manner. For instance, were your reasons for being on the premises legitimate, were you behaving in a reasonably safe manner and paying attention, were you conducting yourself as a "reasonably prudent person" would (as the Model Jury Charges say) - not the most careful person in the world, and not a careless person, but a "reasonably prudent person, under all the circumstances".
Now let's look at the factors we've identified in the context of your winter slip and fall caused by snowy and icy conditions. In doing so, there are three general issues that impact the determination of liability for slip and fall injuries on ice in New Jersey. They are the "Natural Accumulation Rule", unnatural accumulation and snow and ice removal.
Please bear in mind that different rules apply to different types of property.
Under New Jersey law, there are really two sets of standards. One applies to residential property- private single-family homes for the most part. Multiple dwellings (apartments and condominiums) and commercial properties are treated differently- more about that below. For private residences, the owner usually has no duty to either remove or warn about any risk associated with the natural accumulation of snow, ice, freezing rain and/or sleet and is usually not liable for any injuries that occur because of an accident caused by this natural accumulation. The reasoning behind this is that when you go on to a residential property, you are not there to further a commercial profit-generating business of the owner. This general rule does not especially apply if a residential owner makes the natural condition worse by what he or she does or fails to do. Also, this rule does not apply to non-owner occupied multiple dwellings (apartments, condos) or other commercial enterprise where profit is the motive.
The rules are much different when it comes to commercial enterprises (stores, apartment complexes, malls, any business). Still, the evidence must show that the property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition and that either an action or a failure to act by the owner created an unreasonable risk of harm. If, however, the dangerous condition was reasonably foreseeable because of the nature of the property owner's business or the landowner acted in a negligent manner, then no actual notice of the dangerous condition and its attendant risk of accident and injury is required. Many times if the owner of the premises had no notice of the condition or did not have a reasonable opportunity to address it, no liability will be incurred.
This general rule requiring notice is not applicable to the situation where a condition is foreseeable. For instance, if you have lived in New Jersey for even one winter you know very well that at some point after a snowfall, the snow is going to melt during the day and refreeze at night. Mostly this is not a problem. But when it happens where a commercial enterprise invites people onto their property for a a profit (think stores, malls, apartment buildings) and someone with a duty to maintain the area in a safe condition for patrons (like the owner or manager or snow plowing company) fail to do anything about ice (like having the contractor come back to treat the area with melter, or send an employee out to do the same) it's reasonable to hold that owner or that property manager or contractor responsible for an injury incurred. The refreezing of melting snow is certainly foreseeable - and the means to take care of it with ice melter or rock salt on driveways and parking lots is readily at hand and cheap. It just requires someone to actually do it. Saving money on this needed operation is always at the peril of others- and the insurance company. Maybe that's why they don't care enough to do it.
Snow removal and ice remediation (melting). If the property owner has a duty to remove snow or ice, as we have seen at commercial premises, the owner or manager must exercise ordinary care to do so. An attempted removal of a natural accumulation that only makes matters worse will support a claim that the owner of the premises is liable for injuries arising from an accident caused by the dangerous condition. Ignoring ice and the foreseeable formation of ice after it starts to melt at the sacrifice of pedestrian safety will also support a claim. Each case must be evaluated on its own merits after an investigation of the facts - the weather conditions, what the owner did in response, how foreseeable was the danger, how easy would it have been to avoid the danger. Sometimes pre-suit investigation of these issues will yield the answers you need, sometimes only the answers an owner must give in litigation will flesh out the factual picture.
If you suffered an injury as a result of a slip and fall because of icy or snowy conditions, discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney- Francis M. Smith P.C. in Mountainside, New Jersey. Talking about your situation is always free, and there is no fee unless I recover money damages for you. Call me at 888-233-1272, or email me at Frank@FrankSmithLaw.com .