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What is a 'storm doctrine?'

As late-winter snowstorms bear down on a significant part of the country, slip-and-fall injuries are no doubt increasing. That's why it's important to know just how much liability a property owner should assume when someone falls on a sidewalk, parking lot or other part of their property during a storm. That's where something called the "storm doctrine" comes in.

These laws also go by a variety of "continuous storm doctrine." Local cities and municipalities may also have regulations about a property owner's duty to keep the outdoor area clear. St. Louis, for example, has a snow removal ordinance that mandates this removal after "any fall of snow."

So what happens if someone slips and falls in the midst of a snowstorm? Often, judges will rule that the property owner had no obligation to go out in the middle of the storm to shovel or try to remove ice.

In one Iowa case, a judge ruled against a woman who tell in a parking lot during a freezing rainfall using that state's storm in progress doctrine. She appealed, using the argument that the inclement weather didn't qualify as a storm.

In the end, a judge again ruled against her, stating that even if the freezing rain didn't rise to the level of a storm, the doctrine also applied to "less severe, yet still inclement winter weather."

Each case is unique. However, judges and juries will likely look at whether a property owner had a reasonable amount of time to make an area safe after a weather event ended. After all, going out to shovel in the middle of a snowstorm or pouring salt on a sidewalk in the middle of an ice storm will likely be futile.

However, there are always precautions that a property owner can take to keep visitors safe, like placing extra rugs, cones and signs inside the premises. If the owner didn't take all reasonable precautions and you were injured as a result, you may be able to hold the owner and others responsible for the property liable.

Source: FindLaw, "'Storm Doctrine' Debated in Slip-and-Fall Suit," By Aditi Mukherji, JD, accessed March 16, 2017

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