Continuing Storm Doctrine Extended under Wailes v HyVee

Later today the weather folks are predicting a winter snow storm. This will mean people who are out and about will encounter slick parking lots and sidewalks and little effort will be made to clear the lots or to even spread salt. Why? Because they all just got a hall pass to sit down on their derrieres. This hall pass is called the continued storm doctrine, aka, we get to do nothing during and for an unknown time after snow falls. This doctrine stands creates a public policy that no owner or business owner need do anything while it is snowing. They are completely relieved of liability while snow falls and for some period after the storm that will allow them to remove the natural accumulation. If that isn’t a free pass I don’t know what one is.

While there may be a helpful smile in every aisle there are none in the parking lot!

So be forewarned that if you fall in the lot or on the sidewalk while shopping at HyVee or Dahls or Walgreens or Walmart or any other retail establishment including restaurants you will be prohibited from claiming the slick surface is a reason to file a personal injury claim against the business or the property owners. They all get a free pass during the storm and a “reasonable time after the storm ends”.

The continuing storm doctrine makes slip-fall cases during winter storms in parking lots and on side walks non-existent. No lawyer with a brain will take these cases, unless of course they want to go broke. Steve Lombardi, Attorney since 1981

Two recent cases put a stake in the heart of almost every slip-n-fall claim occurring outside and during a storm or in my opinion up to twenty-four hours following the last falling snowflake. Here is why.

The continuing storm doctrine holds the failure to remove the natural accumulation of snow and ice prior to the cessation of the weather event giving rise to such accumulation of snow and ice is not a breach of the duty of ordinary care, as a matter of law, and is thus not negligent, as a matter of law. See Cranshaw v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 613 F. Supp. 2d 147, 149 (D. Mass. 2009) (stating “a property owner is generally not liable for injuries caused by the natural accumulation of snow or ice”). The doctrine further holds that the failure to clear the natural accumulation of snow and ice prior to the cessation of the weather giving rise to such accumulation is not a breach of the duty of ordinary care even where the party voluntarily has undertaken snow removal efforts prior to the end of the weather event. See Cranshaw, 613 F. Supp. 2d at 149 (“Nor does liability arise merely because a property owner removes a portion of snow or ice but fails to remove or treat the remaining natural accumulation.”); Avalos v. Pulte Home Corp., 474 F. Supp. 2d 961, 970 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (stating that “simply removing snow leaving a natural ice formation underneath does not constitute negligence”); Wheeler v. Grande’Vie Sr. Living Cmty., 819 N.Y.S.2d 188, 189 (N.Y. App. Div. 2006) (“[T]he mere failure to remove all snow and ice from a sidewalk or parking lot does not constitute negligence and does not constitute creation of a hazard.”).

This doctrine is so bullet proof for property owners that I dare say the defense bar is trying to figure a way to argue snow falls in July in Iowa.

While the continuing storm doctrine holds there is no breach of duty for failing to clear the natural accumulation of snow until a reasonable time after the cessation of the weather event, “liability may result if the efforts [the party] did take created a hazardous condition or exacerbated the natural hazards created by the storm.” Wheeler, 819 N.Y.S.2d at 188. This is consistent with the general rule that an actor ordinarily has a duty to exercise reasonable care when the actor’s conduct creates a risk of physical harm.

But what about workers compensation claims?

Workers’ Compensation claims are treated different because fault is not involved with a workers compensation claim. So do not misunderstand the limits of this rule of law. You still have a workers’ compensation claim when you fall on the premises at work even though a storm continues and the snow falls.

You can read the Court Cases here,

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Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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