Robinson v. Cianfarini – Ice Slip-and-Fall Liability

Winters in Asheville tend to be fairly mild, but we do occasionally experience winter weather – and all the dangerous conditions that come along with it. Among those are icy sidewalks, driveways and walkways, which can result in a slip-and-fall accident.
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When these accidents occur on commercial property, an injured person may have grounds on which to pursue a premises liability lawsuit, particularly if the condition existed for some time without action from the property owners.

But governments and private property owners have a duty of care to guests and the public as well as it relates to ice on the ground. Asheville city leaders passed a city ordinance – Chapter 16, Article I, Section 16-3 – to deal with this issue. The statute says property owners must clear the sidewalks abutting their property on or before 10 AM each day in which the temperature is over 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They also must clear abutting sidewalks of snow, sleet, hail or other accumulations within 48 hours of when that accumulation stops. Those who fail in this duty may face a citation and fine – and possible civil liability if someone is hurt.

Our Asheville injury lawyers know the government may also be held liable in these instances, or in some cases where dangerous ice conditions are not timely addressed and result in injury.

Of course, North Carolina is not the only place where these issues arise. The recent case of Robinson v. Cianfarini before the Connecticut Supreme Court deals with the liability imposed on private property owners whose property abuts icy public sidewalks. In this instance, the high court affirmed a summary judgment favoring defendants, who argued they could not be liable for third-party injuries for failing to clear a public walkway.

This is not precedent-setting in North Carolina, but it’s worth exploring why the court reached its conclusion.

Plaintiff fell on a patch of snow and ice on a sidewalk abutting defendants’ property. Although the sidewalk was owned by the town, there was a local ordinance requiring abutting landowners to clear the sidewalk of ice and snow. Failure to do so could result in fines.

Defendants, relying on case law from 1937, argued civil liability was properly against the town – not the homeowners. The trial court agreed.

On appeal, plaintiff argued even if the old case of Willoughby v. New Haven would not allow shift of civil liability for failure to clear public walkways, defendant homeowners could still be held liable through other negligence theories. Specifically, plaintiff asserted common-law principles hold property owners have a duty of care regarding property in their possession or over which they have control.

However, the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected this theory. The court noted long after the 1937 decision, the legislature enacted a measure whereby municipalities could opt to transfer civil liability to landowners whose property abutted public sidewalks. Since that measure was passed, many cities, towns and counties have done so. However, the town in this case did not. Therefore, the town is the only proper defendant.

Again, in many of these cases in North Carolina, homeowners – and in turn their homeowners’ insurance – can be held responsible for failure to clear nearby walkways. It’s important to discuss the possibility with an experienced slip-and-fall attorney.

Homeowners seeking to avoid liability for accidents that may result from accumulation of ice or snow on their own property or on nearby sidewalks may wish to follow this general advice:

  • Use salt or anti-freeze to melt or prevent ice from forming
  • Shovel or scrape away walkways and sidewalks promptly, or arrange to have a service carry out this task for you

Contact our North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Robinson v. Cianfarini, Nov. 25, 2014, Connecticut Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Black Friday Injuries and Retailer Liability, Dec. 2, 2014, Asheville Injury Lawyer Blog

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