For the last week, Houstonians have been dealing with weather issues that are extremely uncommon to our area: ice and snow. Not only do many of us not know how to drive on it, but we also do not know how to walk on it. With this new weather comes questions regarding a landowner’s liability for slip and falls on ice and their responsibility to protect invited persons such as employees and/or store patrons from the dangers imposed by the presence of ice and snow on the ground.
Is a Houston Business Liable for Slip and Falls on Ice?
A Houston business is not liable for a slip and fall accident that occurs on a natural accumulation of ice, sleet, or snow on the ground on his property. In order for a business in Texas to be liable for a fall on their property, the injured person must prove that the fall was the result of an unreasonably dangerous condition that the landowner knew or should have known about. In the case of Scott and White Memorial Hosp. v. Fair, 310 S.W.2d 411, (Tex.2010), the Texas Supreme Court held that as a matter of law, a natural accumulation of ice, sleet, or snow is not an unreasonably dangerous condition.
What if the Business is Aware of the Ice, Sleet, or Snow?
Even when the business owner is aware there is ice, sleet, or show in the parking lot or on the sidewalk around the storefront, she is not liable if someone slips and falls on it so long as it is a natural accumulation. The Texas Supreme Court in Scott and White Memorial Hosp. v. Fair acknowledged that ice, sleet, or snow poses a risk of harm, however, no more risk than should be expected by the visitor when navigating the surrounding area. They further opined that to hold landowners liable for natural accumulations would impose too great of a financial burden on property owners.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Natural Accumulation Rule?
In Scott and White Memorial Hosp. v. Fair, the Texas Supreme Court entertained without deciding the viability of two possible exceptions. One is where the business owner is aware of the accumulation and it creates a condition that is substantially more dangerous than a business invitee should anticipate from his knowledge of the conditions in the surrounding area. The second exception they entertained is where the landowner is actively negligent in creating or permitting the condition to exist upon the property. However, in the end, the Supreme Court found that neither exception applied to the facts in that case where someone slipped on ice in a hospital parking lot. They further decided not to give a definitive answer as to whether those exceptions would be recognized in other cases.
A Houston business owner is generally not liable for a slip and fall accident due to the natural accumulation of ice, sleet, or snow on their property. They found that to impose such liability would impose too great a financial burden on Texas businesses. While they did entertain that there may be some exceptional cases, in the end, the Texas Supreme Court decided not to decide whether these exceptions would be recognized by law—leaving them as a possible option if there are facts to support that the landowner actively did something to make it more dangerous than that danger imposed by the weather, itself.