With the cold temperatures and unusually high snowfall amounts, the number of slip and fall accidents on sidewalks is high in the Tri-State this year. For business owners, this may give rise to the question, “is an injury from a slip and fall my responsibility?”

The answer, like most things in the law, is not an easy one-size fits all. It may depend on whether you own your business property or rent it, whether it is located in a private shopping center or on a city thoroughfare, and whether you have contracted with any additional entities for the removal of the snow and ice.

For instance, if your business is on a city thoroughfare, it is likely that you don’t owe the casual pedestrian a duty to provide for cleared sidewalks. This could even be true if there is a City ordinance requiring you to provide such rights of way. In such situations, Indiana’s courts have determined that such a business owner does not owe a casual pedestrian a duty, and without a duty, the business owner cannot be found to be liable. Further, even with a City ordinance requiring the adjoining owner to clear the sidewalk, it has been confirmed by Indiana’s Courts that such ordinances are made for the purpose of benefitting the City rather than the pedestrian public, and therefore can’t be the source of liability.

However, in the situation where a business owner maintains a business in a private retail space, the analysis may be different. This situation typically involves issues of landlord-tenant law and to which party the duty to clear the snow and ice belongs. The duty to the public exists as the public is generally a business invitee rather than a general pedestrian. Invitees are owed a duty of reasonable care by the business owner and potentially the landowner, and therefore, the importance of routine ice and snow removal increases.

Whether your business is on a public thoroughfare or whether it is located in a private center, we can all agree that the dangers of ice and snow on sidewalks warrants our due diligence in protecting our potential customers.

If you have questions about the law in this area, please contact any member of the KDDK Litigation and Trial Services Practice Team.

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