If you live in Wisconsin, you know what comes after fall: winter, which usually involves plenty of snow and ice. Unfortunately, these conditions can bring another type of fall—one that causes injury. But when a slip-and-fall accident happens on a commercial property, who is responsible? The answer can be complex.
In Milwaukee, like many Wisconsin cities, “property owners and occupants of private property (commercial and residential) are required to clear sidewalks abutting their property of snow or ice within 24 hours after snow has stopped falling,” or they may face fines. While this requirement seems to place responsibility on a property owner or tenant to ensure that a sidewalk is safe, in many Wisconsin ice-induced commercial slip-and-fall cases, determining who is at fault is rarely so straightforward. There are a variety of reasons why this is so.
1. Joint Liability
In commercial property slip-and-fall cases, multiple parties may be responsible, including the property owner (who may not even be on the property at the time of the fall), the manager of the business, employees who have been tasked with the job of snow shoveling, or a snow removal or maintenance company hired to clear sidewalks and otherwise handle snow-removal duties for the commercial entity.
2. Liability Criteria
Before anyone can be held accountable in a Wisconsin slip-and-fall accident, at least one of the three following criteria must be met:
• The property owner or commercial occupant caused the slippery or dangerous surface.
• The property owner or commercial occupant knew the surface was slippery but failed to take any corrective action.
• The property owner or commercial occupant should have known the surface was slippery, because any “reasonable person” maintaining the property would have acted to fix the problem.
In cases of a snowstorm, the first criterion would not be grounds for liability. However, something such as a property owner failing to repair a known water leak that then iced over might constitute liability.
The second criterion could prove liability in cases where, for example, the property owner is off site and was aware of a snowstorm, or a manager on site was informed of the leaky pipe, but corrective measures were not taken to stop the leak.
The third criterion is the most commonly used of the three, but it is also the one most open to debate. These types of cases usually come down to determining whether the property owner or occupant took reasonable steps to maintain the property and keep it safe.
3. Premises Liability Claims
Most slip-and-fall accidents where legal action is taken are considered premises liability claims. To file such a suit, the plaintiff must show the fall caused an actual injury (embarrassment does not qualify). Under the guidelines of the premises liability law, the plaintiff must prove the injury resulted from a “dangerous condition” that the property owner or occupant knew about. The dangerous condition has to present an unreasonable risk to someone on the property and—perhaps most notably—be a condition that the injured person would have had no reason to anticipate.
These requirements are designed to make it clear that individuals need to take reasonable precautions to recognize and avoid obviously dangerous conditions. Depending on the court, these requirements can greatly reduce compensation—if not eliminate grounds for legal action altogether—in cases where a person slips on winter ice after a snowstorm where she/he might have anticipated ice to exist.
4. Contributory Negligence
Another precaution Wisconsin and other states have taken to fairly assign liability and help prevent fraudulent slip-and-fall cases is the Contributory Negligence law. This regulation can close a claimant’s case if it is shown that his or her negligence was in fact greater than that of the defendant. Similarly, damages in a Wisconsin slip-and-fall case are most often reduced in proportion to the negligence that is attributed to the claimant.
Contact a Milwaukee Personal Injury Attorney
At Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP, our attorneys realize slips and falls can cause dangerous and painful injuries, including sprains, broken bones, spinal injuries, and head trauma. If you fell on commercial property, you may be able to receive compensation for medical and other expenses, including lost wages. Do not leave the outcome to chance. Contact our Milwaukee, WI slip-and-fall injury lawyers at 414-271-1440.