Landowner Liability: Owner Duty to Address Hazards Created by Bad Weather

New York experiences a range of bad weather conditions, anything from slush and snow to rain and wind. Although owners don’t have control over the weather, they are responsible for the upkeep of their property to ensure others aren’t injured, this is called duty of care. This means that if someone suffers physical harm as a result of hazardous conditions, the injured party can hold the landowner liable.

What does duty of care mean to a property owner?

Property owner liability is based upon the owner’s duty of care. The first thing that must be established is whether the owner owed a duty of care to the person injured.

Duty of care would not be owed when someone trespasses on the property. Let’s say an individual breaks into a store, slipping and falling. The person suffers a concussion when his/her head strikes the ground. It would be very difficult to hold the owner liable.

However, sometimes an owner can be responsible for a trespasser’s injuries. This may be the case if a child wanders onto the property where a dangerous condition exists (such as an uncovered pool) or if the owner doesn’t post signs warning about a potential danger (such as an electric fence).

Duty of care is almost always owed to an invitee. This typically applies to property where customers are invited to conduct business such as a shopping mall and grocery store. In fact, these are circumstances in which the highest duty of care is expected.

But it could also apply to private homeowners or landlords. Nonbusiness activities on someone’s property, such as a birthday party, require the owner exercises care to prevent others from being injured.

Once the claimant establishes that the property owner owed a duty of care, the second issue is whether the owner breached it. In other words, did the owner fail to act in a reasonable manner to prevent injuries to other people?

This could mean that the owner had failed to correct a hazardous condition of which he/she was fully aware or should have known. And in some cases it could be that the owner actually created the hazard.

How does duty of care apply to hazardous conditions created by bad weather?

Poor weather can create unsafe conditions, particularly on sidewalks and steps, where there is the risk of slipping and falling. There are also circumstances in which snow has accumulated on top of a roof or an awning that could cause it to collapse.

Owners should remove the snow, de-ice slippery surfaces, and prevent water accumulation if possible. Of course, timing could be a key factor in these types of situations. Whether the owner had enough time to correct the hazardous condition is a key factor.

It’s unreasonable to expect that the owner remove hazardous snow five minutes after a blizzard. But if several hours pass and the owner failed to take care of the snow, it could very well be considered a breach in the duty of care.

Owners of property are also supposed to warn others of the hazards created by bad weather and provide barriers against it until the problem is corrected. Let’s say a roof is sagging because of heavy snow accumulation. A reasonable owner would fence off the area to prevent others from accessing it. 

Some means property owners can use to warn others about avoiding a dangerous hazard are: 

  • orange cones;
  • caution tape; and
  • “do not enter” signs.

Get Help Establishing Landowner Liability

An attorney can be instrumental in establishing liability of a landowner. Call Gacovino, Lake & Associates for help:

  • collecting evidence;
  • filing appropriate paperwork; and
  • presenting a clear case against a property owner to establish his or her liability for injuries.
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