As a slip and fall lawyer in Cleveland, Ohio, I am often asked whether a business is liable when a customer has a slip and fall injury on the property (this is sometimes known as “commercial premises liability” law). Slip and fall law in Ohio is not always plaintiff friendly. However, with the right facts and the right lawyer, a slip and fall injury victim can make a successful claim and recover the compensation they deserve. Below is a summary of some Oho case law where the slip and fall victim was able to prove to the court that they deserved to get past summary judgment in order to get a settlement, or even proceed to a jury trial.
In Stinson v. Cleve. Clinic Found. (8th Dist. 1987), 37 Ohio App. 3d 146, as a result of the previous days’ snowfall, maintenance employees at the Clinic plowed the various sidewalks surrounding the Clinic. Along the walkway where the plaintiff was walking, the snow had been piled up several inches high along the grass, away from the street. When the snow melted, it ran from the grass, across the sidewalk, and to the street. When the temperature again dropped, a thin patch of ice formed on the sidewalk upon which Mrs. Stinson slipped and fell. Under these facts, the Court stated:
“[T]he issue in this appeal is whether the hospital or its agents failed to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances of this case where it was reasonably foreseeable that a significant number of persons, both able-bodied and infirm, would traverse along the sidewalk leading to the hospital entrance doors and where the hospital’s security staff did not inspect the sidewalk nor advise hospital maintenance of any hazards on the walkways. We are persuaded that triable issues of fact exist and render the entry of summary judgment improper.” Id. at 148. The Court stated in the syllabus:
“A visitor of a patient in a hospital is an invitee, and the hospital accordingly owes such invitee a duty of ordinary or reasonable care in maintaining the premises, including the means of ingress and egress, in a reasonably safe condition so that persons are not unnecessarily and unreasonably exposed to danger.” Id. at syllabus.
In Gober v. Thomas & King, Inc., 2nd Dist. No. 16248, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 3564, the invitee slipped and fell on a patch of ice while descending a flight of steps outside the owner’s restaurant. The record indicated that “snow had fallen earlier in the week [and] [m]ounds of snow were piled in the corners of the parking lot and patches of ice had formed on the asphalt parking lot surface.” Id. at *2. The plaintiff stated that she “did not look down as she made her way down the steps to her car. When she placed her foot onto the lower of the two steps her foot slipped on a patch of ice and she fell out into the parking lot, landing on both knees.” Id.
The court noted than “[an expert witness] opined that the probable source of the ice on the step where Gober fell was run-off from the melting of snow piled at the sides of the steps. According to [the expert], as the sun shines on that snow it melts, and the water produced then ran off onto the adjacent steps. Due to the depressions in the surface of the step, the water puddled and remained on the steps. When temperatures fell below freezing that water froze, forming ice on the step.” Id. at *4.
In reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, the appellate court held that when the dangers associated with natural accumulations are shown to be outside the reasonable expectations of an invitee because of some act or omission of the owner, then the owner may be liable for failure to protect the invitee from the dangers. Id. at *12. The court found that the plaintiff “offered evidence which demonstrates that the proximate cause of her alleged injuries was a condition made substantially more dangerous than she could reasonably anticipate by Defendant-Appellee’s acts or omissions of installing and maintaining a step on which ice accumulated to an extent that differed markedly from the surrounding conditions. That evidence may be thin, but it preserves a genuine issue of material fact for determination when it is construed as Civ.R. 56 requires.” Id. at *12-13.
In Cain v. McKee Door Sales, 10th Dist. No. 13AP-352, 2013-Ohio-4217, “Betty Cain fell on snow and ice in the parking lot at the office of her eye doctor.” Ms. Cain’s affidavit stated, “As I approached my car from the rear, I was reaching for my door and I slipped and fell on the snow and ice that had accumulated in the drainage swale of the parking lot.” Id. at *9.
The Court stated, “In resisting the motion for summary judgment, Betty Cain’s counsel provided a report from… an architect, safety expert and certified building official. The report provides a detailed review of the parking lot and of weather conditions during the week when Betty Cain fell. The report notes that she fell on ice at about 1:00 p.m. on February 10. During the week of the fall, the temperature barred between 1 and 37° Fahrenheit. Under these conditions, melted precipitation would have flowed to the swale and then froze again. The ice on which she fell, construing the facts strongly in her favor, as required in addressing the motion for summary judgment, leaves a genuine issue of material fact as to whether or not she fell on an unnatural accumulation of ice which resulted from the design of the parking lot.” Id. at *12.
The Court went on to state, “Nothing in the record to this point included that she knew ice was present when she got out of her car or when she reached for the car door when she returned to her car. The mere fact it had snowed recently did not make the danger from the ice open and obvious, such that no duty of care was present. Stated differently, the open and obvious doctrine commonly argued in slip and fall cases does not automatically apply at this stage of the proceedings.” Id. at *13.
As such, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. Id. at *14-15.
In Bittinger v. Klotzman, 8th Dist. No. 64190, 1993 Ohio App. LEXIS 1552, Mr. Bittinger, a deliveryman, claimed that he slipped and fell on a non-natural accumulation of ice and snow caused by the negligent plowing of a snow plow company on property owned by Klotzman. In recounting the facts, the Court stated that “[o]n January 2, 1990, Bittinger, made a delivery to a building in Highland Heights, Ohio known as Alpha Park West. While returning to his truck which was parked in the building’s parking lot, Bittinger slipped and fell on an accumulation of ice. A review of the record reveals that the lot was last plowed on December 31, 1989. In oral argument before this court, Klotzman and DelBalso claimed that snow fell after December 31, 1989; however, a review of the record reveals no evidence to substantiate their claim. In fact, an inspection of the lot on the morning of January 2, 1990 at approximately 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. revealed that the parking lot had been plowed and the excess snow had been pushed off.”
In reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, the Court stated how the Bittingers “argued that the fall was due to a non-natural accumulation of snow. They claimed that [the snow plow company] piled snow from the lot along the high end of the parking lot. They argued that the snow melted, causing water to run towards the center of the lot where it froze later at night when the temperature dropped. The Bittingers argued that this ‘thaw-refreeze’ effect created a greater than normal hazard — a layer of ‘black ice’ not observable by parking lot users.” The Court went on to state that, “We agree with the Bittingers and find their assignment of error well taken.”
In France v. Sandy Valley Local School Dist., 5th Dist. No. 88AP090068, 1989 Ohio App. LEXIS 465, the plaintiff invitee reporter went to a school for a Board of Education meeting. It was cold and there was snow on the grass, but the sidewalk was clean and appeared dry. Id. at *1. As she approached the building, she slipped and fell on ice on the sidewalk near the entrance. Id.
Snow and ice had been cleared earlier in the day with salt, causing a melting condition. Id. at *2. Further, the area was neither inspected nor attended after 2:30 p.m. on the day of the fall. Id. After the fall, the area was salted. Id.
After discussing various “natural accumulation cases,” the Court stated that “Appellant seeks to distinguish these cases by arguing that the ice accumulation here was not ‘natural.’ She argues that the admitted freeze-salt/thaw-freeze cycle on the slightly slanted portion of sidewalk renders the accumulation ‘unnatural,’ a product of appellee’s action and consequent inaction.” Id. at *4-5.
In reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, the Court found that the defendant “was aware of a hazard not readily apparent to the invitee-appellant, attempted to make the area safe by spreading salt, and failed to reasonably care for and maintain the premises by lighting, inspection, and re-salting at a time when a public meeting was due to start.” Id. at *9.
In Zanter v. Herrick, 6th Dist. No. L-94-324, 1995 Ohio App. LEXIS 2936, the plaintiff social guest sued the defendant host after the plaintiff slipped and fell on the defendant’s porch and sustained injury. The defendant admitted that she knew prior to the injury that water dripped down from the roof line onto the porch. In describing a photo shown to her, the defendant further stated that an eaves trough was attached to the roof line above the front porch. Id. at *2-3.
The Court stated, “the issue in this case is whether a genuine issue of material fact exists on the issue of whether water that dripped from the roof line onto the front porch of appellee’s home and subsequently froze is an unnatural accumulation of ice and whether appellee had notice of this condition as well as reason to believe that appellant did not or would not discover such dangerous condition.” Id. at *7.
In reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, the appellate Court concluded that “there are issues of fact (1) whether defendant’s dripping eaves trough creates an unnatural accumulation of ice, (2) whether defendant had reason to know or actual knowledge of the dangerous condition for a sufficient time prior to the injury, and that the knowledge is superior to that of the plaintiff, (3) whether defendant’s eaves trough dripping onto the front porch and its subsequent freezing constitutes a breach of a duty to use ordinary care which is owed plaintiff as a social guest, and (4) whether defendant’s dripping eaves trough creates a latent or concealed defect that plaintiff did not know of and would not discover.” Id. at *9.