In a recent trial court decision in Cumberland County, the judge granted summary judgment to a bank and its snow removal contractor for a slip and fall accident occurring in the bank parking lot. The plaintiff suffered a broken ankle and claimed that the defendants’ failure to adequately address snow and ice conditions in the parking lot was the cause of his injury.
Plaintiff, who was not a bank customer, was using the parking lot as a short cut to a store when he was injured. The defendants argued that he was a trespasser and was only entitled to be warned of artificial conditions on the property and that they did not violate any duty to the plaintiff. The plaintiff in turn argued that the defendants knew or should have known that the parking lot was used as a pedestrian shortcut. There was evidence that others often used the parking lot as a cut through.
The defendants had cleared the parking lot of snow and ice from a significant snowfall and had applied salt, several hours before the accident. The court found that there was insufficient time for the defendants to respond to the subsequent snow shower that occurred approximately 30 minutes before the accident, and that as a result, the defendants did not violate any duty to the plaintiff. The court also specifically found that the plaintiff was not a bank customer and therefore was a trespasser.
It should be noted that the plaintiff had crossed the parking lot on his way to the store, and fell on his way back from the store on a “light coating” of snow. Thus he had an opportunity to assess the condition of the lot but still chose to return using the same route.
This case illustrates how a judge will consider the reasonableness of a commercial property owner’s actions to address hazardous conditions. As I have said many times on this blog, just because an injury occurs at a particular location, it does not follow that the owner or lessee of that location is automatically liable for that injury.