Property owners have a responsibility to make sure that their premises are safe for visitors; this often includes clearing snow and ice during the winter season. In some instances, individuals who suffer injuries because of a slip and fall on ice or snow may be able to hold the property owner or business owner responsible for their damages. Accidents that occur on icy or snowy walkways, parking lots, and steps can lead to severe injuries, including broken bones, concussions, spinal cord injuries, and even death.
Generally, there are three ways in which a Maine property owner or business may be liable for injuries during a weather-related slip and fall. The three main situations are: 1.) if the owner contributed to the dangerous condition that caused the fall, 2.) if the owner knew about the hazardous condition but failed to fix it, or 3.) if the owner should have known about the dangerous situation. Property owners typically include commercial businesses, such as stores, restaurants, and apartment complexes. Owners also include residential homeowners, including people who own private homes, condominiums, and townhouses. Finally, owners include properties that are run by the government, such as post offices, police stations, and courthouses.
Liability for typical slip and fall accidents often hinges on the duty that the property owner owed the injured party. The extent of a duty owed to a guest depends on whether the injured person is classified as an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. However, challenges establishing liability arise when the slip and fall occurs because of snowy and icy conditions. Generally, Maine does not have a state statute that requires property owners to remove snow and ice from their property; however, certain towns may have local ordinances that do impose liability. In many cases, courts will look at what a “reasonable” property owner should be expected to do in similar circumstances. For example, the court may look at where the snow or ice accumulated, how much time between previous removal and accumulation had elapsed when the slip and fall occurred, or whether the business was in operation when the dangerous condition arose. Many cities are urging their residents to engage in safe driving and pedestrian practices to avoid injuring themselves or someone else during the winter season.