Extreme winter weather conditions are a part of life in Portland and throughout Maine, making virtually every mode of transportation potentially perilous. This was part of the reason the state issued a travel ban during the most recent blizzard.
Given the frequency of such storms, property owners must be vigilant about ensuring the premises is reasonably free from slippery conditions for employees, customers and other guests.
Legislators in Maine have wrestled with just how much responsibility business owners should have to safeguard their site against such hazards.
Liability for icy, snowy conditions on one’s property date back to the late 1800s, and the case of Quimby v. Boston & Maine R.R. Co. decided in 1879. More recently, the case of Davis v. R.C. & Sons Paving Inc. in 2011 dealt with many of the same issues.
In terms of a company’s responsibility in the midst of a storm, this was tackled in 2001 by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in the case of Budzko v. One City Center Associates Ltd., a slip-and-fall case out of Cumberland County.
According to court records, plaintiff was injured after slipping and falling on an ice-covered landing at the bottom of a stairwell of a commercial building where she worked. The space was leased by a number of tenants, and between 500 and 1,000 people traversed the site daily. OCC was responsible for snow and ice removal, and this particular incident occurred in the midst of a winter storm.
Jury found in favor of plaintiff. Defendant appealed, arguing that because the storm was still ongoing at the time of the incident, it was not legally required to begin snow and ice removal until it had subsided. However, the state high court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, reasoning a business owes a duty to exercise reasonable care in providing a reasonably safe site when it knows or should know 500 people are more are coming and going off-site. The court decided it was foreseeable with that many people coming and going, someone would be injured if icy conditions were not addressed until after the storm let up.
Of course, there may be some instances in which a court may find it was too difficult for a business to keep its property free of ice and snow in the midst of blizzard-like conditions, like those we recently experienced. However, what the Budzko decision demonstrates is it might not be prudent for business – or private property owners, for that matter – to wait until a storm is completely over before initiating snow and ice maintenance.
In the more recent Davis case, a hospital worker sued after suffering injuries due to a slip-and-fall in the parking lot. This injury too occurred in late February. The plowing company hired by her employer to clear the lot was actively working to plow the lot at the time of the injury, but had not yet had a chance to sand it. Trial court dismissed the lawsuit – a decision later affirmed by the state high court – on the basis the company was in the process of performing maintenance. Further, the company’s maintenance had not created the hazardous condition that caused the injury – the storm had – which meant the company was not negligent.
Slip-and-fall injuries in Portland can be serious, and it’s important for victims to contact an experienced law firm with a proven history of success in the courtroom.
Contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Budzko v. One City Center Associates Ltd., Feb. 21, 2001, Maine Supreme Judicial Court
More Blog Entries:
Dangerous Property Poses Hazards for Maine Tenants, Oct. 10, 2014, Portland Injury Lawyer Blog