Everyone should know that Connecticut has some pretty draconian laws about slipping and falling during a storm. Under Connecticut law a landlord or property owner has no duty to clear his or her property of snow or ice while a storm is ongoing. This is called the “ongoing storm” doctrine, and it says while the storm is ongoing the landlord or property owner can just sit back and watch, i.e., they don’t have to do anything. The landlord doesn't have to get started until the storm ends, which leads to some interesting questions. Like when does a storm actually end? And does it end everywhere at the same time? We’ve all seen times when it can be snowing in one town but not in the next town over. It ends at different times in different places. You can have freezing rain and sleet falling in Hartford but not across the river in East Hartford. The same conditions do not always happen at the same time in every location, even a few miles away.
At our firm we represent many clients who fall at or about the ending of a storm. It only makes sense that people wait to go out until they see that the snow or sleet has stopped falling. They have to go out to the grocery or to CVS, so they wait for the snow to stop. And sometimes they fall because the landlord or property owner hasn't done anything to make the walkway safe. They haven’t sanded or salted or shoveled yet, even though the storm may have been over for a good time. But people can’t stay trapped in their apartments. They have to go out and get food for the family. And they fall on untreated ice or snow.
What happens next is always predictable: the landlord's insurance company denies responsibility. They say the fall was your own fault, that you weren’t being careful enough and they deny liability. We are forced to bring a lawsuit, and when we do, the insurance company’s attorneys try and claim that the storm was still ongoing at the time of your fall and therefore the landlord had no duty to to anything until the storm was over. No duty to apply sand or salt, or to shovel snow, relying on that legal misfit, the on-going storm doctrine. They even hire expert weather witnesses to study weather maps over the state of Connecticut and then come to court and testify that snow or sleet was still falling generally over the area where you fell. Of course they weren’t there when you fell so they can’t actually say what conditions were like for you, but they can say that generally, the storm wasn’t over, and the landlord therefore could wait a few more hours for the storm to end. That's how the argument goes. Even though you specifically remember that nothing was coming down from the sky at the time of your fall, an expert weatherman or woman comes to court to testify that the storm was on going.
To me it's always seemed unfair that some owners of commercial buildings shouldn’t have to start shoveling or applying ice melt just because the storm may be ongoing in some other locale but not in the area where you happen to be. Or that they aren’t required to do anything to take care of the property during a lengthy storm that may last three or four days. Just cause a storm continues over several days shouldn't mean a landlord shouldn’t try to make it safe for people to walk outside. Sometimes we can successfully argue in court that a storm lasting several days is not really a single storm but rather, a series of storms starting and stopping, and then starting again. We argue that the landlord had a duty to do something after first storm stopped, even though another storm might have been on the way. It's the safe thing for property owners to do.
But you should always remember to be careful walking outside during the winter months, especially over untreated sidewalks and parking lots. Be especially careful when walking during a storm now that you know that the law of Connecticut may not protect you if you fall. The law is pretty strict that property owner doesn't have to do anything during a storm. And hopefully tonight will be the last snow and ice we see this winter. Springs starts in only three days!