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What You Should Know About Slipping on Snow and Ice

Posted in Blog on May 24, 2013

The ground is slippery during Colorado winters, and walking can be hazardous even if the owner of the premises has been reasonably cautious. According to OSHA, 15 percent of all accidental deaths are caused by slipping and falling. Falls are the second most common cause of accidental deaths, after automobile accidents.

If you fall on icy ground and suffer an injury, can you seek compensation? The answer to this question is not at all simple, and each individual event must be reviewed on its own merits. There are, however, a few basic points in Colorado law which can be summarized here.

When is the owner responsible?

If you’re walking on a sidewalk, you might assume that the landowner whose front yard is adjacent to the sidewalk is the owner of that sidewalk – or at the very least, is the one responsible for keeping it clear. In Colorado common law, however, there is a “no duty” rule which states that the owner of property adjacent to a sidewalk has no duty to keep the sidewalk clear of snow and ice.

In some cases, a city may create an ordinance requiring adjacent property owners to keep sidewalks safely passable, but there is no civil liability for these property owners unless the specific ordinance mentions one. The way the city ordinance is written will determine whether the person who was supposed to shovel a walkway can actually be held liable for not doing it.

The premises liability statute is the part of Colorado law that specifies whether a property owner is liable for an accident that occurs due to some condition of that property. If you pursue someone in court for what happened on their land, this is the only law that you can make use of. In this statute, “owner” doesn’t mean only the legal title-holder. The term can also refer to anyone who is legally in possession of the property, such as a renter.

When you step on someone’s land, you fall into one of three categories:

1) Invitee: This usually refers to someone paid by the landowner to come onto the premises, as when a homeowner hires a babysitter, or a bar-owner hires a singer. The landowner (or person in control of activity on the land) must make a reasonable effort to PROTECT the invitee from dangerous conditions that the landowner knew of, or should have known of.

2) Licensee: This term refers to someone who enters the land for their own reasons, with permission of the landowner. Oddly enough, social guests usually fall into this category, since it’s assumed that the guest has personal reasons for wanting to be on the property. This term also refers to customers of a business, church congregation members, and so on. The landowner must make an effort to WARN licensees of dangerous conditions that the landowner knew of, or should have known of.

3) Trespassers: This covers anyone who is on land that they have no legal right to enter. The only obligation that a landowner has towards a trespasser is that the landowner must not willfully cause harm to the trespasser.

Who is responsible for the accident?

Another aspect of premises liability law concerns whether the dangerous condition was created by the landowner, or whether it was naturally occurring. Different legal standards are applied if Mr. Smith neglects to clear the snow that fell on his walkway, compared to Ms. Jones, who sprayed her walkway with a hose and then let the hose-water freeze into a sheet of ice.

There is further consideration given to the question of whether the plaintiff (the person who fell and is trying to collect damages) should have been paying better attention to the natural dangers. If Ms. Doe is wearing high heels in blizzard conditions and breaks her ankle, she will have a harder time collecting damages than would someone who had been wearing snow boots.

The Colorado premises liability statute was created for the purposes of limiting liability, so it leans slightly in favor of the landowner. The plaintiff is in the position of having to prove each detail of their claim, even to the point of proving that a landowner “should have known” that a condition existed or was dangerous. If you have slipped or fallen on ice, it’s important to seek the steady hand of a personal injury lawyer to help you navigate the slippery ground of the law.

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