If you own a small business or commercial building, one important consideration is your liability should someone slip or fall on your property. Our Midwestern winters can add extra hazard with the accumulation of ice and snow. There are some important facts you should keep in mind when it comes to premises liability issues.
Property owners can be found responsible for injuries, property damage or even wrongful death if someone is injured on their property. However, in order to be found liable, there must be a dangerous condition which the owner either knew about or should have reasonably known about. Additionally, this condition must be one which the injured would not have been reasonably aware of.
Generally, you are not liable for injuries that occur as a result of winter weather. In many states, including Missouri, there is a “natural accumulation” rule under which a property owner has no duty to remove or warn of the dangers of natural accumulations of snow and ice. However, even in these states, there is an exception if the property owner either is or should be aware of a situation that creates a condition more dangerous than what should be reasonably anticipated. For example, if a roof drips and ice refreezes causing a black ice situation near the entrance, your business could be found liable if you were aware of the situation. Liability can also be determined if an unnatural accumulation of snow or ice is caused by the design, construction or maintenance of the building or premises.
While states may have these “natural accumulation” laws, it is important to be knowledgeable about the specific codes or ordinances your area may have. If you have questions, you can often look up your city or state ordinances online.
Portions of this article originally appeared in The politics of Shoveling, Claims Magazine.