WHAT OBLIGATION DOES A BUSINESS OWNER HAVE TO REMOVE SNOW AND ICE WHILE IT IS STILL FALLING?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Agnew v. Dillons, Inc., 16 Kan. App. 2d 298, 822 P.2d 1049 (1991).
This case addresses the following issue:
What obligation does a business owner have to remove snow and ice while it is still falling?
In this case, a customer slipped on ice as he was leaving a grocery store. Id. at 299. The ice had accumulated during an ongoing storm, and the store made no effort to clear the accumulated ice, instead simply placing a mat on the outside ramp. Id. The court determined that these actions were reasonable under the circumstances, and held that a business does not have to “remove accumulated precipitation from exterior surfaces during a winter storm” absent unusual circumstances. Id. at 304.
Plaintiff headed to Defendant’s store as an ice storm was breaking in the early morning. Id. at 299. Plaintiff quickly collected a few items in the store, purchased the items, and began to leave. Id. Defendant had not made any effort to clear the outside ramp which led to the door, but it had placed a long mat on the ramp in an effort to offer extra traction. Id. However, as the ice continued to come down, the mat had become coated in ice. Id. As Plaintiff attempted to leave, he slipped on the icy mat and suffered severe injuries. Id.
The court began by setting out the normal standard for premise liability in Kansas: “a proprietor must use ordinary care to keep those portions of the premises which can be expected to be used by business invitees in a reasonably safe condition.” Id. at 300. Kansas had never ruled on what this obligation translated to in terms of ongoing snow or ice storms. Id. Looking at other states, the court found a mixed bag of answers. Id. at 301-02. Most court had found that a business owner’s efforts to clear accumulated snow or ice while precipitation is still falling would be largely ineffective. Id. at 301. Further, “every person who ventures out at such time knows he or she is risking the chance of a fall and of a possible serious injury.” Id. Basically, the icy condition is a known risk while ice and snow are still falling; the same can’t be said once the storm has passed, and a customer may incorrectly assume walkways have been cleared. Id.
Looking at these decisions and the policies behind them, the court agreed that a business generally has no obligation to remove accumulation while it is still storming. Id. at 304. To hold otherwise would require a business to “continuously devote time and effort to keep outdoor surfaces precipitation-free during a storm,” and that is not a reasonable solution based upon its benefits weighed against its costs. Id. After all, the business wouldn’t be able to keep all of the walkways clear all of the time—mother nature will win that war every time. Id. Instead, absent unusual circumstances, a business can simply wait until the storm has passed and then begin removing accumulation without violating its duty of reasonable care owed to customers. Id.