Winter weather has arrived in the Twin Cities. Every year, Minnesota sees an increase in injuries and accidents when the snow starts falling and temperatures drop below freezing. One of the most common causes of winter weather injuries are stairways or entryways of apartment buildings that have not been shoveled. Landlords have a legal duty to keep these common areas clear and in a safe condition for residents and their guests. In Minnesota, property owners may also have a duty to warn people using the property of these potential hazards. If the landlord fails to clear snow or ice, or fails to adequately warn of the danger, they may be liable for resulting injuries.
The standard of care that the law imposes on landlords is “reasonable care”, which is defined as the amount of care that a reasonable person would use in that situation. This implies that there are some accidents which are truly “accidental” and unforeseeable. It may be the case that the landlord did in fact exercise reasonable care, but a dangerous condition still developed and was unavoidable. A common example of this is when a person slips and falls on a sidewalk or entryway during a snowstorm. It is then generally the pedestrian’s duty to act with due care because of the obvious nature of the situation. There are many factors that need to be evaluated in order to make the determination of who that at-fault party is.
A common situation in Minnesota involves an unexpected snowfall or a thaw-freeze cycle that quickly produces icy conditions. Many landlords, especially those who operate larger apartment buildings, employ a snow removal company during the winter to clear entryways, parking lots, and sidewalks. Generally, the landlord and snow removal company will have a detailed contract specifying when services will be provided, usually based on the amount of snowfall. Other factors that contribute to dangerous conditions include lighting and the current condition of the pavement or cement.
If you have been injured because of a fall outside of your apartment building, the landlord and its insurance company will attempt a number of standard defenses to liability. First, landlords will claim that they exercised reasonable care by hiring a snow removal company to clear the snow on a certain schedule and that the dangerous condition developed without their knowledge. Second, they may claim that the danger was “open and obvious” to the injured person, and that the injured person was actually the negligent party. Third, landlords may point to signage in or around the building that provides a warning of slippery conditions.
In cases like the example above, proving liability involves looking at the contract between the snow removal company and the landlord. In many cases, the landlord or one of their employees has an obligation to “call out” the snow removal service when conditions develop unexpectedly. Through rigorous discovery investigation, an experienced personal injury lawyer can determine if the terms of the contract were met and if the landlord did in fact exercise its reasonable care. In some cases, the terms of the contract are inadequate and even if procedures were properly followed, they may not meet the reasonable care standard.
This is especially true in situations where the landlord is aware of a potentially dangerous condition such as a leaking gutter, an area of the pavement that allows water gather, or a poorly lit area where it is difficult to see ice.
Signage that attempts to warn people of dangerous conditions may also be inadequate. Landlords may fail to place signs at all entrances or make them prominent enough to serve as a warning. Similarly, the claim that the danger was open and obvious to the person who fell is dependent on these specific facts.
Sand Law’s personal injury attorneys have experience in getting to the bottom of complicated liability situations and securing compensation for our clients. Our experienced premises liability lawyers apply the law to the facts and get results. Contact us today for a no-cost consultation.