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Personal Injury Claims During a Pandemic and Beyond: Snow & Ice; Nothing is Nice

Austin LiPuma

It was my second year of law school and I, admittedly, had waited to catch the bus until the absolute last second. As the clock ticked down, I bundled up as quickly as I could, grabbed my book-bag weighing approximately the size of an adolescent and sprinted for the door. No sooner had I ripped open the entrance door to my apartment complex when it happened.

I was suddenly airborne. It was one of those falls where you have sufficient time to contemplate all of life’s meaning while still afloat. I landed. Hard. My back was throbbing and yes, I missed the bus. Despite the nature of my profession, I try not to be too litigious but of course, my mind immediately thought do I have a claim?

As we continue to slog through the world nearly a year into a pandemic, winter decided to rear its ugly head in full force over the past week across the country. Many recent intakes I’ve fielded relate to my exact scenario: I slipped and fell on ice. What are my options?

Ohio’s Winter Rule:
The options for me in that moment and for many that experience this unfortunate event are limited. Ohio has adopted an austere, general rule often referred to as the “winter rule.” Effectively, this means that a property owner does not owe a duty to a person on its premises who slipped and fell due to the natural accumulation of ice. This is tethered to a larger, overarching rule of law called the “open and obvious” doctrine, which is in the name. Courts generally view it as a known risk to step outside in Ohio in the wintertime and potentially slip then fall.

With that said, like anything with the law, there is often an exception(s). This is true regarding an unnatural accumulation of snow and ice. For instance, a couple years back I had a client who slipped at an apartment complex similar to mine. However, in this instance, an improper drainage system caused an unnatural build up of ice to occur. Similarly, there have been scenarios where a property owner unreasonably clears snow in piles that cause an injury. While these cases are not always a dispositive avenue, they at least have a tenable theory of liability.

As always, the law is often applied based on the specific set of facts. It is always a best practice to at least determine if there’s a potential claim by calling in. Once I got back to the couch and had a few ibuprofen in me, the first call I made was to my boss, a personal injury attorney, at the time. Unfortunately, he broke the “winter rule” to me. As we continue to plow through this winter please stay safe, warm, and alert.

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