It’s January in Wyoming. October, November, and December brought more than our usual amount of bitter cold, snow, and winds that would put Chicago (the supposed “Windy City”) to shame. As you might expect, we saw an increase in slip & fall victims come through our doors at the end of last year and expect to see more through the months of January, February, March, and, dare we say, April?
So, you or someone you know slipped on the grocery store sidewalk as you were walking in to get groceries. The sidewalk looked clear but the wind had blown some melted snow into a depression that froze when the sun went down. When you stepped on it, your feet came out from under you and you landed hard on your shoulder, your hip, your head.
First, report the slip & fall and your injuries to the store, theatre, landlord, or whatever other business you might have slipped at. Most businesses will have an Incident Report for you to fill out. If they don’t, insist that they write down your report and provide you a copy. Take pictures of the location of the fall if you can. Ask about surveillance footage. There must be a record of the fall that placed you at the business at the time of the fall. Do what you can to create that record, although most businesses will have a protocol that ensures a record is made.
Second, seek medical attention. We all try to play off a fall or an injury in public. You look around to see if anyone noticed then hop up before anyone does notice. A few moments later, you realize you’re dizzy, your back hurts, and you can’t raise your arm above your head; but, again, you play it off or expect to get better. Don’t wait too long before you see a doctor. If you don’t feel better the next morning, go. And, of course, if you know you’ve sustained serious injuries, go now.
Third, find a lawyer. A good slip & fall lawyer will be able to tell you whether the grocery store is liable for your injuries; whether the store should have maintained its sidewalks better; whether people in Wyoming are even entitled to recovery in light of the fact that we all know how bad the weather can be here.
Elements of a Slip & Fall Case
To establish the negligence of a business in a slip & fall case, the injured party must prove:
- The property owner had a duty to keep its sidewalks clear of ice, snow, slush, etc.;
- The property owner breached the duty by failing to keep its sidewalks clear of ice;
- The property owner’s breach caused injuries; and
- The injuries necessitated medical expenses or other money damages.
Natural Accumulation Rule
As alluded to above, the fact that Wyoming regularly experiences bad weather can make it difficult to win a slip-and-fall case because it impacts the first element above: the DUTY of the landowner. How? Let us explain.
Wyoming residents are familiar with the state’s temperamental weather, as they’ve lived with it for years, sometimes for their entire lives. Unfortunately, this familiarity can be used against a slip-and-fall victim under Wyoming’s “natural accumulation rule,” which protects landowners and businessowners from liability. The rule states:
“A proprietor is not considered negligent for allowing the natural accumulation of ice due to weather conditions where he has not created the condition. The conditions created by the elements, such as the forming of ice and falling of snow, are universally known and there is no liability where the danger is obvious or is as well known to the plaintiff as the property owner.” RB, Jr. by & through Brown v. Big Horn Cty. Sch. Dist. No. 3, 2017 WY 13, ¶ 14, 388 P.3d 542, 547 (Wyo. 2017).
It’s easy to understand the theory behind this Rule, as we are well-aware of the dangers winter weather (and spring weather for that matter) regularly bring to Wyoming throughout the year.
However, what if the city has an ordinance requiring landowners to clear their sidewalks of all snow and ice, as many of Wyoming’s larger towns do? In such cases, the grocery store might be liable.
Local Snow & Ice Removal Ordinances
According to the Wyoming Supreme Court, snow and ice removal ordinances show the city’s “clear intent” to establish a “heightened standard of care.” Id. This means the city’s ordinance might create an affirmative DUTY (overriding the natural accumulation rule) for a landowner within the city limits to remove snow, ice, slush, or anything else mentioned in the ordinance.
How and when snow, ice, and slush need to be removed depends on the ordinance. Take a look at the ordinances below from different towns in Wyoming.
12.04.040 - Duties of property owners relative to sidewalks generally.
Maintenance. Every sidewalk must be maintained in a safe condition at all times by the owner of the abutting property.
8.60.090 - Snow, ice or slush as a nuisance.
Sidewalks. Snow, ice or slush on a sidewalk is a nuisance, whether the sidewalk is on a vacant lot or a lot containing a building of any kind...Owner(s) and/or, if appropriate, the occupant(s) of property abutting a sidewalk shall within a twenty-four (24) hour period, after a snowfall, remove snow, ice or slush from such sidewalks and maintain them free of the same...
108.020 - Snow, ice and debris—Removal from sidewalks.
All persons shall keep the sidewalks in front of and adjacent to the tenements or grounds owned, occupied or managed by them clear of ice, mud, dirt, rubbish or filth. After any fall of snow, such persons shall cause the snow to be immediately removed from such sidewalks.
23-4 Removal of snow, etc., from sidewalk—Duty of owner, etc., of abutting property.
The owners, agents and occupants of any house, warehouse, store, tenement house or any other building, and the ground belonging thereto or occupied by them, and the owner and agent of any vacant lot within the city, shall keep the sidewalks, whether paved or not, in front of and adjoining such property, clean, and after any fall of snow, shall cause the snow and all slush and ice to be immediately removed from the sidewalk fronting their respective lot into the carriageway of the street.
As you can see, these ordinances are similar in ways but different enough that you might need a trained eye to help you see how they apply to the facts of your case, how they apply to the natural accumulation rule, and how your own carelessness (or alleged carelessness) might have contributed to the fall. You would be wise to hire a premises liability attorney to delve into these issues and more.
If you injured yourself after slipping and falling on someone else’s property or sidewalk, contact our firm to discuss the details and whether or not you have a claim.