Can You Sue to Recover Compensation After a Slip and Fall Accident on Ice in New York?

Winters in New York can be brutal. Everything becomes an ordeal, from going to work to running an errand. Unfortunately, the harshness of New York’s winter months go far beyond mere annoyance. Wet and icy conditions make the line between inconvenience and injury paper thin. One wrong step on a patch of ice could require a trip to the emergency room, which can quickly turn into missed days at work, costly medical bills, and even life-altering injuries. 

Thankfully, your story doesn’t have to end there. If you have been injured after falling on ice, you may be entitled to compensation. The law recognizes that while cleaning up after bad weather is a challenge, landowners have a responsibility to keep their respective slices of New York safe for the rest of us. In this article we will discuss how the law views slip and fall accidents that happen on ice and explain how you can get the compensation you are owed.

What Is a Slip and Fall Accident?

A slip and fall accident is best defined as an accident where someone falls as a result of slipping or tripping. The person’s slip or trip is usually caused by a hazardous condition. Here, we are concerned with falls on ice, which almost exclusively involve someone slipping due to an accumulation of ice or snow after a winter storm.

How Dangerous Are Slip and Fall Accidents on Ice?

Slip and fall accidents on ice are incredibly dangerous for two reasons. First, slipping is a drastic loss of control over one’s body. When you slip, your legs are compromised. And without your legs, it is difficult to adjust your body to fall somewhat safely. Second, slip and fall accidents on ice naturally involve falling on a hard surface, putting victims at risk of serious injuries:

Options For Compensation

If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident on ice, you may be eligible for compensation. Your options include:

  1. Making an insurance claim
  2. Filing a lawsuit
  3. Reaching a settlement

Making an Insurance Claim

If the person or entity responsible for the property on which you fell has liability insurance covering accidents that occur on the property, your first option for recovering compensation is to file a claim with their insurer. Your claim will let the insurer know that 

  1. you were injured,
  2. their policyholder is to blame for your accident, and
  3. they (the insurer) are therefore responsible for compensating you. 

Once you file your claim, the insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to your case. The adjuster will investigate your claim and decide whether their policyholder is at-fault for your accident. If the adjuster finds in your favor, the insurance company will have to compensate you.

The insurance claim option is enticing because of its simplicity. Your other option, filing a lawsuit, involves a relatively long and complicated process. People like the insurance option because the claims adjuster takes full responsibility for investigating the claim, meaning there is little work required on the claimant’s end. Ironically, this aspect of the insurance claims process that makes it so attractive is also one of its downfalls. 

The trouble with the insurance adjuster handling every aspect of the case is that as an employee of the insurance company, they have reason to be biased. If they find in your favor, their employer will be responsible for compensating you with a large sum of money, something the insurer certainly doesn’t want to do. This conflict of interest is something to be wary of before choosing to pursue an insurance claim.

Filing a Lawsuit

Your second option is to file a lawsuit. Similar to making an insurance claim, filing a lawsuit involves claiming someone else is responsible for causing your accident and should therefore be forced to compensate you for your resulting losses. The difference is that instead of lodging your claim with an insurance company, you file your claim in a court of law. After you file your lawsuit, both you and the person or entity you are suing will have the opportunity to argue your respective cases to the court. A judge or jury will then decide whether whoever you are suing is liable and, if they are, how much they have to compensate you.

Lawsuits are complicated. They involve complex procedures, take a long time to be resolved, and make the injured party responsible for investigating their own claim. On the other hand, what lawsuits lack in convenience, they more than make up for in fairness. Where the insurance claims process fails is that all of its simplicity and convenience add up to an unfortunate conflict of interest. Lawsuits, on the other hand, offer invaluable benefits. By being given the responsibility of investigating your own claim, you are empowered to present the best case possible. And the fate of your claim fairly rests with an impartial judge or jury who have no personal stake in the case’s outcome.

Reaching a Settlement

Whether you make an insurance claim or file a lawsuit, statistically, your case is very likely to be resolved by way of a “settlement.” A “settlement” is an agreement reached between the parties to a dispute to resolve their case without the input of a third-party decision maker, here an insurance adjuster or a court. The bargain is simple: 

In exchange for the injured claimant agreeing to drop the claim, the party accused of being at fault agrees to pay the claimant. 

The incentives to settle are strong on both sides. For the claimant, fighting the case until the very end is also expensive and time-consuming. Getting compensated early means they save that time and money they would have spent fighting the case. It also means they avoid the possibility of them ultimately losing, which could happen even if their claim is strong.

Woman has an accident cause of black ice on the road, downfall and injury,

Who Is Liable for a Slip and Fall Accident on Ice?

Once you’ve decided the appropriate path to compensation, you will need to figure out who should be the object of your insurance claim or lawsuit. The person or entity responsible for a slip and fall accident on ice will be whoever is responsible for the safety of the premises where the accident took place. More specifically, the responsible party will usually be whoever is responsible for removing snow and ice from the premises in question. Depending on the type of property, this responsible party can be:

  • A public entity
  • A commercial property owner
  • A commercial property lessee
  • A third-party snow removal company
  • A private, non-commercial property owner, such as a homeowner
  • Your employer

Figuring out who is responsible is not always straightforward.

First, it’s not always apparent whether a property is privately or publicly owned. Remember, slip and fall accidents on ice mostly take place outdoors, often on sidewalks and in parking lots. It may not be immediately clear whether a given section of sidewalk is the responsibility of a public entity or of the adjacent private business. 

A second challenge is that the property often has multiple parties who are somewhat responsible for its maintenance, making it unclear who is responsible for ice and snow removal specifically. Take, for example, commercial properties. They often have an owner, who owns the physical property, and a lessee, usually a business leasing the property. The lease will specify the owner’s and the lessee’s respective responsibilities for maintaining the property. But the owner or lessee might also contract with other companies to perform maintenance services. The contract might say something different from the lease, making the contractor responsible for snow removal. And, even if the different agreements are clear, figuring out who is responsible under those agreements still requires some sleuthing. Similar complications arise with publicly owned property.

A real-life example of these complexities is the New York case Lachs. v. Best Buy Stores, Co., Inc. Mr. Lachs filed suit against a Best Buy store after he slipped and fell on a patch of ice in its parking lot. The accident occurred a couple days after a snow storm. A significant feature of this case was a dispute between Best Buy and two other parties, Tower and Atlas, concerning who was responsible for removing the snow and ice from the parking lot. Best Buy had contracted with Tower to provide snow and ice removal services in the parking lot. Tower had in turn subcontracted with Atlas, who was essentially tasked with doing the work Best Buy had hired Tower to do. 

After examining all the relevant contracts, the court decided Tower was the responsible party. They pointed out that the contract between Best Buy and Tower contained what’s known as an indemnity provision. This basically means Tower promised to take responsibility for claims related to their contractual duties to remove the snow and ice. This took Best Buy out of the equation. Next, the court considered the contract between Tower and Atlas. Their contract lacked an indemnity provision. It also provided that Atlas had to check in with Tower for approval before doing any work, suggesting Tower was in control. Since Tower maintained control over the removal services, the court concluded they were responsible if anything went wrong.

The bottom line is that figuring out who is responsible for the safety of a given property is complicated, and your attorney may need to conduct a thorough investigation to figure out who is the proper entity to pursue by way of an insurance claim or lawsuit.

When Is Someone Liable for a Slip and Fall Accident on Ice?

In the eyes of the law, liability for a slip and fall accident on ice depends on whether the party responsible for the safety of the property was “negligent.” Negligence is a tricky legal concept roughly meaning “carelessness.”

For our purposes, someone is “negligent” when they fail to act in a way that the law expects them to have acted, and their carelessness in this regard causes someone to be injured.

In the context of slip and fall accidents on ice, we are concerned specifically with property owners and their failures to maintain the safety of their premises. This area of negligence law is known as “premises liability.”

Premises Liability

The basic rule of premises liability is that a property owner is liable when they fail to address a dangerous condition on the property that they had notice of, and the dangerous condition causes someone lawfully on the property to be injured. This is a lot to digest in one piece. Let’s break this rule down further into its key elements.

a property owner is liable when they fail to address a dangerous condition graphic

Property Owner

“Property owner” is a term of convenience. Remember from the previous section that the person or entity responsible for a slip and fall accident on ice will be whoever is responsible for maintaining the safety of the premises, specifically snow and ice removal. This may or may not be the property owner. So, when we say “property owner,” we mean whoever is responsible for snow and ice removal from the property in question.

Dangerous Condition Caused Person to Be Injured

The dangerous condition, here ice, must have caused your injuries for the property owner to be liable. The technical legal standard in effect is known as “proximate cause.” The basic idea is that the cause, the slippery ice, should be direct and necessary to your injuries.

Notice / Failure to Address Condition

To hold the property owner liable, it must be true that the property owner knew of the dangerous condition and failed to address it adequately or reasonably. The idea is that it would be unfair to hold someone liable for failing to address a problem that they didn’t know about and had no reason to know about. There are three main ways a property owner is said to have notice of a dangerous condition:

  • If they created the dangerous condition
  • If they were notified of the dangerous condition
  • If they should have known of the dangerous condition because it was present for long enough before the accident that the property owner would have had time time to discover and remedy it

“Addressing” a dangerous condition can take many forms. The law is not looking for property owners to be perfect, preventing and avoiding all accidents. In most cases, they simply ask that the property owner do what is reasonable. This might mean clearing the ice, putting up a sign warning pedestrians, or blocking off the affected area.

These aspects are generally the most challenging part of a slip and fall on ice case. Especially in areas that tend to get a lot of snow, the responsible party can’t reasonably be expected to know about and clear snow the second it falls and even if they know and take steps to address it (shovel & salt) it won’t get rid of every last bit of snow and/or ice (see below).

An Important Exception: The Storm in Progress Doctrine

It doesn’t seem fair to expect a property owner to continue to shovel during a snowstorm; this is called the storm in progress doctrine. This rule states that property owners are not required to address hazardous snow and ice-related conditions during an ongoing storm, nor for a reasonable time after the storm, nor during a lull or break in the storm.

An example of this rule in action is the case of Perna v. State. Ms. Perna slipped and fell face-first on a patch of ice in a parking lot at the State University of New York at Albany. She later sued the State of New York, claiming they were negligent in maintaining the safety of the parking lot and therefore liable for her injuries. Perna ultimately lost her lawsuit because of the storm in progress doctrine. 

The court pointed out that the evidence at trial established that there was ongoing rain, wind, and below freezing temperatures both before and during Perna’s slip and fall accident. They concluded this was a storm in progress, meaning that “the State’s duty to remedy any dangerous condition was suspended until it had a reasonable time to alleviate the conditions after the storm ceased.”

Injured Party Lawfully on the Property

In most cases, an injured party cannot recover compensation unless they were lawfully on the property where they were injured to begin with. So, a trespasser who happens to be on a stranger’s property likely won’t be entitled to recover compensation for their injuries if they slip and fall.

Falling on Ice on a Residential Property: A Special Case?

To most people, it makes sense that the government and commercial property owners are responsible for maintaining the safety of their properties and can be held liable when their failure to do so causes someone to be injured. But things seem a little more murky when a private citizen slips and falls on ice on another private citizen’s residential property. 

Imagine a homeowner’s dinner guest slips on a patch of ice on the homeowner’s driveway. Or suppose someone walking through a neighborhood slips on the sidewalk abutting a homeowner’s property. Could the homeowner be held liable for the other person’s injuries in these scenarios? The answer lies in whether the law expects the homeowner to maintain the safety of the property in question. 

In general, when a slip and fall accident occurs on a homeowner’s residential property, such as the driveway, the homeowner will be treated like any other property owner. That is to say if the injured party was lawfully on the property, the homeowner had notice of the dangerous condition that caused the injuries, and the homeowner failed to reasonably address the dangerous condition, they can be held liable. The rules are slightly different, however, when a slip and fall accident occurs on the sidewalk abutting a homeowner’s property. The rule in these cases is well summarized in the case Saroop v. Mihovich:

An abutting homeowner is not liable for injuries sustained by a pedestrian as a result of a defective condition of a public sidewalk unless

  • the homeowner created the defective condition, or 
  • caused it through some special use, or 
  • a statute makes the homeowner responsible for maintaining that part of the sidewalk and specifically says they will be liable for injuries resulting from them violating the statute

In short, falling on ice on a residential property is not quite a special case except when the fall is on a public sidewalk abutting the residential property. If your slip and fall accident occurred on such a sidewalk, your attorney may need to research the relevant rules and regulations to determine whether the appropriate homeowner can be held responsible. Otherwise, the same premises liability rules applied to public entities and commercial properties in this section will govern whether the homeowner is liable.

Comparative Fault

Until now, we have focused exclusively on the property owner’s role in causing the claimant’s injuries. But what about you, the injured claimant? Imagine someone who’s texting and walking slips on a patch of ice. Who is to blame? Some might say the property owner is to blame, assuming they had notice of the ice and failed to do anything about it.

The property owner might have a different answer: the injured pedestrian. After all, they were careless themselves in texting and walking. Maybe the icy patch was obvious, and had they been looking where they were going, they wouldn’t have fallen. 

The natural response is that if the ice had been addressed, there would be no need to pay attention. As you might imagine, this back and forth could go on for quite some time but, luckily, there is a third answer: they’re both to blame. The property owner should have cleared the ice, and the pedestrian should have been looking where they were going. 

Fault is not always absolute.

The law’s solution is comparative fault: insurance adjusters and courts, after finding the property owner liable, are permitted to factor in the injured claimant’s fault in causing their injuries. In practice, they assign a percentage of blame to each party. These percentages dictate how much the property owner must compensate the claimant. 

For example, if the claimant texting while walking makes them 10% to blame, then the property owner is 90% to blame. However much the property owner is ordered to pay the claimant will be reduced by 10% to reflect the claimant’s level of blame. Different states follow different formulations of comparative fault. New York observes a pure comparative fault model, which means that in New York, you can recover compensation as long as you are less than 100% to blame. This applies most often in situations where both sides sustain damages as a result of the accident.

Proving Fault

If you pursue compensation by filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party, to prevail, you will need to prove to the court that whoever you are suing was at-fault for causing your accident. To prove someone was at-fault for causing your slip and fall accident, you will need to establish all four of these elements:

  1. A dangerous condition existed
  2. The State/property owner had notice of the dangerous condition and failed to alleviate it within a reasonable time
  3. The dangerous condition was a proximate cause of the accident
  4. You sustained damages

Proving these elements will require a comprehensive investigation. One significant source of evidence will be deposition testimony. A deposition is basically where your attorney interviews witnesses and other pertinent people who give official, out-of-court testimony. For example, your attorney might interview a store employee who might admit the manager knew about a patch of ice in the parking lot for two weeks without doing anything to address it. Other useful sources of evidence include:

  • Maintenance records
  • Video surveillance footage
  • Expert witness testimony

Once your attorney has gathered the necessary evidence, they will need to persuade the court with strong and convincing legal arguments.

No matter which path you pursue, to achieve the just compensation you deserve, you will almost certainly need to hire a seasoned personal injury attorney. If you make an insurance claim, you have two distinct challenges. First, you need to figure out who can be held responsible for your accident so that you know with which insurance company to file your claim. Second, once you make your claim, you are up against a process with a glaring conflict of interest. The lawsuit route is even more complicated in many ways, and getting a fair settlement requires a strong claim, expert negotiating skills, and knowledge of fair settlement amounts. 

Slip and Fall on Ice Statistics

The statistics on slip and fall accidents occurring on ice confirm what most would suspect to be true: they are frequent, expensive, and dangerous. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in one year alone, 42,480 work injuries involved ice, sleet, or snow. New York accounted for a staggering 4,470 of these injuries, the most of any of the 50 states. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year about one million Americans are injured and 17,000 killed as a result of falling on ice and snow. The CDC also underscored the significant expense involved, as well as the grave dangers of falling on ice. They report that nationwide in 2015, medical costs for falls amounted to more than $50 billion, and more than “800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.”

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of compensation can I recover?

You may be eligible for damages that are easily quantifiable (like lost wages and medical bills), as well as those that are less easy to calculate, such as your pain and suffering throughout the ordeal. Your legal team will likely have a good idea how much to request in total compensation, based on their experience with prior cases.

What happens if I slipped and fell on ice while I was working?

If you slip and fall on ice while you are working, your options for compensation may expand to include worker’s compensation benefits. This will usually be your first source of compensation if you are injured on the job. You may be able to collect worker’s compensation and sue the at-fault party, as long as that party is not your employer. These cases are complicated, so you should consult a personal injury attorney who can examine the precise facts of your case and determine with greater certainty what compensation you may recover.

Can you sue an apartment complex for slipping on ice?

Yes. An apartment complex can be held liable for your slip and fall accident on the basis that they are responsible for maintaining the safety of the premises. In some cases, an apartment complex may not be liable though the accident occurred on the apartment’s premises. For example, a third party might have been responsible for ice and snow removal, or tenants might be contractually responsible for maintaining certain areas of the complex. An attorney will need to investigate further to determine precisely who should be sued.  

Can someone sue you for slipping on your driveway?

Yes. It is possible for a homeowner to be held liable for someone’s slip and fall accident on their driveway or even the sidewalk abutting their property. Their liability will depend in part on whether they owe a duty to remove the ice or snow under the circumstances. An attorney would need to examine the circumstances of your case and the relevant laws and regulations.

How long do you have to report a slip and fall?

If a slip and fall occurs on public property and you plan to sue a public entity, you will need to file a notice of claim with the State within 90 days after the date of your accident. If you sue on private property, you are not required to report it, so there is no time limit. However, if you plan to pursue a claim, you are strongly encouraged to set your case in motion as soon as possible.

What do you do if you slip and fall on ice outside of a store?

If you slip and fall on ice outside of a store, you should notify the store’s manager. If the store is responsible for the area where you fell, you should be able to fill out an accident report form. Be sure to request a copy of the form once you’ve filled it out. Next, you should promptly contact an attorney so they can investigate further.

How long do I have to file a lawsuit?

In general, you have three years from the date of your accident to file a lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits initiated by the deceased person’s estate after a fatal slip and fall accident must be filed within two years of the deceased person’s death. If you are filing a lawsuit against a public entity, you have 90 days from the date of the accident to initiate the lawsuit by filing a “notice of claim.”

What should I do after a slip and fall accident?

Your first priority after a slip and fall accident should be your well-being. It is advisable to err on the side of caution and have yourself examined by a medical professional soon after your fall. If it is safe to do so, you may also want to document the scene of your fall by taking photos or even by making mental notes. This can prove invaluable to your attorney’s investigation, as often, key evidence is naturally destroyed in the time between your fall and when you consult with an attorney.

What are my options if my family member was killed in a slip and fall accident on ice?

The proper legal cause of action in this case would be a wrongful death lawsuit. It is very similar to the personal injury lawsuit discussed in this article, with the main difference being that the lawsuit is brought on the deceased person’s behalf by their estate, and the damages are intended to compensate surviving family members. The rules concerning which family members are eligible to receive this compensation are complicated. You should consult an attorney, who will examine your exact circumstances and determine your eligibility.

Who Should You Contact?

Navigating New York’s winter weather is difficult enough without the added stress of medical bills, lost wages, and physical trauma on the back of someone else’s failure to maintain the safety of their property. At Rosenblum Law, we expertly advocate for our slip and fall clients and help them secure the compensation they are owed. If you have been involved in a slip and fall accident on ice in New York, contacting the dedicated attorneys at Rosenblum Law is the vital first step on your road to recovery. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.

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