Is a Property Owner Liable for Injuries That Occur During an Ongoing Storm?
A winter storm can produce a significant amount of ice and snow. This in turn creates a potential hazard for anyone visiting a property that is open to the public, such as a store or hotel. At the same time, Tennessee law does not automatically declare property owners liable for any slip-and-fall accident that may result from ice or snow on their land. Instead, owners are expected to “take reasonable steps” to remove any ice or snow “within a reasonable time after it has formed or accumulated.”
To put this rule another way, a Tennessee court normally will not hold an owner liable for an accident that occurs while a winter storm is ongoing. A recent unpublished decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Chittenden v. BRE/LQ Properties, LLC, provides a case in point. Here, the plaintiff was walking through the parking lot of a Nashville hotel during a snowfall. The plaintiff slipped and fell. He subsequently sued the hotel owner for damages.
A Davidson County judge dismissed the lawsuit at the summary judgment stage. That is to say, the judge found the undisputed facts could not support the plaintiff’s theory of liability. The plaintiff appealed this decision, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s ruling.
The appeals court explained that by the plaintiff’s own admission, the snowfall was still “ongoing” when he fell. The plaintiff said the snow did not stop until about 20 or 30 minutes after his accident. Nevertheless, the plaintiff insisted the storm should not have been characterized as ongoing. The appeals court said that argument was “without merit.”
The Court further said the hotel had no legal duty to warn the plaintiff of the “existence of ice in the parking lot.” In prior cases, Tennessee courts have said there is no duty to warn of such “obvious” hazards. Such was the case here as well, the Court of Appeals said, noting that it was “reasonable” for the defendant “to wait until the snow subsided to examine the property in order to take measures to remedy or warn of dangerous conditions.”
Indeed, even though the plaintiff alleged that hotel employees had started spreading ice melt on the parking lot while the snow was still falling, that by itself did not impose any “special” legal duty on the hotel beyond what is described above. Again, the defendant acted reasonably, from a legal standpoint, in waiting until the snow ended before clearing the parking lot.
Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Today
Personal injury cases alleging negligence on the part of a property owner often succeed or fail based on the specific facts involved. That is why it is essential to consult with an experienced Nashville personal injury lawyer as soon as possible following your own accident. Contact the offices of Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our personal injury team.