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Storm in Progress, or On-Going Storm Doctrine

BPS is here to serve our clients during this COVID-19 crisis. Pursuant to Governor Lamont’s Executive Order, legal services are essential services. Whether or not we are in our offices, Brown Paindiris & Scott, LLP Lawyers are available by email, phone and video conference. Read More.

July 28, 2009

Old Ice versus New Ice

A landowner’s duty of reasonable care permits a reasonable period of time within which to remove the hazard following the cessation of a snowfall or other weather condition responsible for initially causing the ice or snow accumulation. Typically referred to as the “storm in progress rule,” this limitation on the landowner’s affirmative duty to keep the premises clear of accumulations of ice and snow generally only applies to the occupants of commercial premises in which the presence of invitees may reasonably be anticipated, even during a snowstorm.

In the absence of unusual circumstances, a property owner, in fulfilling the duty owed to invitees upon his property to exercise reasonable diligence in removing dangerous accumulations of snow and ice, may await the end of a storm and a reasonable time thereafter before removing ice and snow from outside walks and steps. The leading Connecticut case on this issue is Kraus v. Newton, 211 Conn. 191 (1989). In Kraus, the plaintiff, a meter reader employed by Northeast Utilities, slipped and fell while descending the plaintiff’s outside stairs. Freezing rain had begun to fall the previous evening and continued at the time of the plaintiff’s fall. The defendant testified that the stairs had not been sanded at the time of the injury. Notably, the plaintiff admitted upon cross-examination that the storm was in progress at the time of his fall.

Although the Kraus court affirmed and applied the On-Going Storm Doctrine, several significant points were made by the Court:

  • The doctrine applied in the absence of unusual circumstance. However, the Court did not set forth any explanation or criteria for what would constitute “unusual circumstance.”
  • Whether a storm had ended was a factual question for a jury. Thus, the Court’s decision did not foreclose submission to the jury of the factual determinations of whether a storm had ended or whether a plaintiff’s injury had resulted from new ice or old ice when the effects of separate storms began to converge.[1]

In considering the scope of the term “unusual circumstance,” it is inappropriate to consider the status of the defendant as a commercial property owner. A landowner’s duty of care with respect to others is determined by the status of the entrant, i.e., trespasser, licensee or invitee. The status of the defendant is not relevant in determining the duty owed to a person injured on the defendant’s premises.[2]

In Cooks v. O’Brien Properties, Inc., 48 Conn. App. 339 (1998), the Court partially defined the “unusual circumstances” exception. The Court affirmed the use of two considerations that a trial court may instruct a jury about as to the “unusual circumstances” exception to the on-going storm doctrine: (1) the availability of other avenues of egress/ingress; and (2) a change in the nature of the precipitation, such that light snow flurries after a storm may not justify application of the doctrine in as rigid a manner.[3]

The facts of Cooks are as follows: On January 8, 1994, at 9:00 a.m., the plaintiff left her apartment building to go shopping with a friend. A winter storm had deposited snow throughout the night. There had been a previous storm four days earlier. The apartment’s parking lot had been plowed, but the front steps had not been shoveled by the building superintendent. The plaintiff fell as she descended the front steps. The precise time that the storm ended was in dispute. The plaintiff’s meteorologist testified that the snow stopped several hours before the fall, but conceded that some form of light precipitation may have continued to fall until after the plaintiff’s fall. The defendant’s meteorologist testified that there was precipitation in progress at the time of the plaintiff’s fall.

While a defendant is not ordinarily charged with the duty of removing snow or sleet while the storm is still in progress. Situations may arise where the proximate cause of the accident was a pre-existing accumulation of ice or snow, the danger of which was increased by the more recent precipitations.[4]

For a defendant landowner to be victorious on a summary judgment, it would be necessary to establish that the snow storm was still in progress during the accident or that the defendant removed the snow within a reasonable time after the snow fall. A weather report certified by the National Climatic Data Center is not conclusive evidence of whether a storm in on-going, it merely goes to the weight of the evidence.[5]

[1] Kraus v. Newton, 211 Conn. 191, 198 (1989).

[2] See Sinert v. Olympia & York Dev. Co., 38 Conn. App. 844 (1995). The Appellate Court held that the on-going storm doctrine applied with equal force to the commercial property owner. A winter storm had begun about midnight and continued to approximately 12:15 p.m. the next day. At about 1:15 p.m. freezing rain began to fall, and continued to the following midnight. The plaintiff was a legal secretary at a law firm located in One Corporate Center in Hartford. She left the building at approximately 3:20 p.m. and freezing rain was falling at that time. The plaintiff fell on a walkway controlled by the defendant. The trial court charged the jury that, in considering the issue of “unusual circumstances” the jury could consider the location and use of the premises. The Appellate Court ruled that such considerations were not proper.

[3] See, e.g., Cafarelli v. First Nat’l Supermarkets, Inc., 46 Conn. Supp. 179 (1999). The plaintiff fell in the parking lot of Edwards Supermarket in Hartford. The parking lot had not been plowed. The defendant’s meteorologist testified that a storm was on-going. The plaintiff claimed that the precipitation was extremely light at the time of injury. There was only one entrance to the store, and there had been no previous storm. Based on Cooks v. O’Brien Properties, Inc., 48 Conn. App. 339 (1998),, these issues should go to the jury.

[4] See, e.g., Quirk v. Furniture Depot of Milford, 2005 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1890 (court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment where the parties offered conflicting evidence as to whether plaintiff slipped on old packed snow). See also, French v. Perrault, 1996 Conn. Super. LEXIS 681 (parties offered conflicting affidavits regarding weather conditions at the time of injury; accordingly, the court found an issue of fact and refused to grant summary judgment).

[5] See Croom v. Duchess Hamburger, 1998 Conn. Super. LEXIS 651.