Settlement was achieved on the eve of trial for our 48 year old male client who suffered a fractured ankle and nerve trauma as the result of a slip and fall on ice.
Our client was exiting a center city apartment building when he slipped on ice which had accumulated on the sidewalk from the thaw of a snow pile uphill of the 36” path made when 4 inches of snowfall had been cleared the day before. He suffered an ankle fracture which required surgery with a plate and screws to align the fractured bones. Although the fracture was adequately reduced, the plaintiff was left with a nerve injury causing numbness and tingling in his foot.
The case was tricky for our client. BRB had to prove that the owner of the property and its snow removal contractor acted carelessly to cause his injury. Four inches of snow had fallen ending at 4pm the day before the fall. The building owner ensured its snow removal contractor cleared a pathway for pedestrians by 6pm. The contractor, as it always did, pushed snow to both sides of the path created. The sidewalk, however, was slightly slanted downward toward the street. Temperatures remained above freezing through the night causing melt from the uphill snow pile to run across the sidewalk. In the early morning hours of the next day, temperatures went below freezing and froze the melted water into a sheet of ice which our client slipped on.
In order to succeed, our client had to overcome the hills and ridges doctrine, a legal creation intended to protect property owners from liability for slips and falls on ice unless the ice has been there so long that through the process of people walking through it, has accumulated into ruts, moguls, hills and ridges. If there has been a recent snow, generally slippery conditions exist in the area, and the snow and ice has not sat long enough for hills and ridges to form, a property owner is not responsible for falls on the ice.
The plaintiff, through an expert, was able to establish that the defendant property owner, and its contractor, created the icy condition, avoiding application of the hills and ridges doctrine. BRB proved that because both defendants should have known that the sidewalk was slanted, and that thaw and freeze conditions were common, they created a trap for our client by leaving any snow uphill of the path created. BRB also was able to create a conflict in the testimony between the property owner and the contractor: they disagreed as to whose responsibility it was to monitor the property for thaw and freeze conditions.
On the eve of trial, the parties were able to reach an agreement to resolve the case for total payment of $350,000 split between the property owner and contractor.
Attorney: Anthony J. Baratta of Baratta, Russell, & Baratta