Recently, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) posted on her Facebook page that she had suffered a fractured ankle that required surgery after she suffered a slip-and-fall accident at her home. Although she didn’t realize any details about exactly how the fall occurred, she indicated the ankle was broken in two places, but the surgery was successful.
Slip-and-fall accidents like the one Collins suffered are an increasing occurrence in Maine during the winter months, when accumulations of ice and snow make walkways and entrances especially hazardous.
Of course, brutally cold, icy, and snowy conditions are just a part of life here in Maine, which makes almost any way of traveling potentially dangerous. The state has gone so far in the past as to issue travel bans during blizzards, but those apply to motor vehicle traffic. Still, property owners owe a common law duty of care to keep their sites reasonably free from potentially slippery conditions for workers, customers, and other types of guests.
As to how far this responsibility stretches, it’s something Maine lawmakers and courts have struggled to determine over the years. When it comes to premises liability for ice and snow on one’s property, we can date that all the way back to the turn of the 19th century. More recently, though, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court decided in 2001 that property owners may even owe a duty of care to guests during a snowstorm. In that case, the plaintiff alleged she suffered injuries after a slip-and-fall on an icy landing at the bottom of a stairwell at a commercial building where she worked with anywhere from 500 to 1,000 other people daily. The defendant property owner didn’t deny it was responsible for snow and ice removal, but it argued that the incident in question happened in the middle of a snowstorm. The case was decided in favor of the plaintiff, with the justices finding it foreseeable that with so many people flocking to the site on a daily basis, someone would inevitably be injured if the snowy, icy, and slippery conditions weren’t addressed until after it stopped snowing.
Of course, courts could in some cases find that businesses have too difficult a time clearing snow and ice from the property in serious winter weather conditions, but as the 2001 case shows, property owners have an important responsibility. Many municipal codes, such as in Portland, require commercial property owners to remove snow from sidewalks next to their property within 12 hours after the snow stops falling. Residential property owners, meanwhile, have a full 24 hours to clear the walkways in front of their homes or apartments. When it comes to tenant liability, it’s generally leases rather than state laws that determine whether it’s the landlord or the tenant who is responsible for snow removal (and therefore liable for injuries resulting from a failure to do so).
If a slip-and-fall occurs at a private residence, there is sometimes a reluctance to pursue an injury claim, given that these often involve homes of family members or social acquaintances. However, it’s important to understand such claims are not personal and are usually paid by one’s homeowners’ insurance. Furthermore, these payments are an important means of recovering damages suffered for medical bills and lost wages incurred as a result of the fall.
An experienced Maine slip-and-fall accident attorney can help you explore your legal options.
If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Susan Collins Recovering From Surgery After Slip on Ice, Dec. 22, 2017, By Christopher Cousins, Bangor Daily News
More Blog Entries:
Maine Supreme Judicial Court Rules on Campus Injury Lawsuit, April 26, 2017, Bangor Injury Attorney Blog