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Posted in Law on December 18, 2015   |  by Gary Burger

Slip and Fall Claims and Law

Mary and Dora don’t know each other but have the same story. Both were going shopping at a grocery store, walked through the parking lot and slipped and fell on ‘black ice’ they did not see. We have navigated their claims well through the labyrinth of Missouri slip and fall law.

The both were significantly injured - Mary had knee surgery and Dora will likely need surgery too. The manager at Mary’s store had arrived that morning and almost sipped on a different ice patch behind the store. He salted that patch but then did not salt anywhere else, did not inspect the lot or ask anyone else to (and no one did). After Mary fell, her son and a store manager helped her up and both of them slipped on the ice patch too.

Dora similarly was with her son when she fell, and he slipped helping her too. They contacted the store owner immediately and the store managers saw the ice. There was no general snow or ice around.

As is increasingly common, neither store owned or maintain the parking lots exclusively reserved for their use. And the company that owned the lot hired someone else to plow and salt.

We learned there was a complete dearth of programs or practices to walk or inspect the property for ice or other conditions unsafe for guests. These stores were national chains that had published “trip slip and fall” prevention programs for in the stores but nothing for outside.

Of course these settled easy, right? No – Mary’s case went to the eve of trial, after all experts were deposed, and we just defeated summary judgment in Doras case and that should go to trial soon. Defenses raised – the injured person should have seen it or watched more carefully, store did not own the property and lot owner only had to plow, and it was a general accumulation of ice/snow and thus no liability under Missouri law. Let’s look at the law:

A landowner has to keep its property free from dangerous conditions. MAI 22.03 (7th Ed.). MAI 22.03 states the owner only could have known of that condition, so the lot owner is on the hook. Further, Missouri courts have long held that, in parking lot cases, the store using the lot owes a non-delegable duty to its invitees to provide a reasonably safe parking lot.  Cannon v. S. Kresge, 233 Mo.App. 173, 116 S.W.2d 559 (1938); Demko v. H & H Inv. Co., 527 S.W.2d 382 (Mo. App., 1975); Groce v. Kansas City Spirit, Inc., 925 S.W.2d 880, 885 (Mo. App. W.D., 1996); Turcol v. Shoney's Enterprises, Inc., 640 S.W.2d 503 (Mo. App. E.D. 1982); O'Connell v. Roper Elec. Co., Inc. 498 S.W.2d 847 (Mo. App. 1973).

This duty is based on the “merchant’s duty to invitees to provide a reasonably safe means of ingress and egress.”  Demko, 527 S.W.2d at 384.  This duty extends beyond the boundaries of the premises under the invitor's control or occupancy to include the approaches which are expressly or impliedly invited for use. See Cannon, 116 S.W.2d at 569. Mary and Dora were customers of the stores that lease space around the lot and were invitees of both the store and lot owner defendants.

In Demko, the Court said an operator who controlled a parking lot had superior knowledge about ice formation and therefore has a duty to keep a parking lot adjacent to their premises safe because of that superior knowledge.  Demko, 527 S.W.2d at 384-385.  “The basis for

liability in this type of case is knowledge of the storekeeper of an unsafe condition or of a danger to a shopper, superior to that of an invitee.” Demko, 527 S.W.2d at 384, quoting Gilpin v. Gerbes Supermarket, Inc., 446 S.W.2d 615, 618 (Mo. 1969). Although a landowner is not required to remedy a dangerous condition that generally affects all property in an area, they are required to address a property hazard that was known or reasonably discoverable. Harris v. Neihous, 857 S.W. 2d 222 (Mo. App. 1993); see also Gorman v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 19 S.W.3d 725, 732 (Mo. App. 2000)(A defendant may voluntarily assume a duty to protect the safety of an invitee by plowing ice, and once such a duty is assumed, the defendant must exercise reasonable care).

Whether a weather condition of ice or snow was a general condition in the community or was an isolated condition in a particular area and whether a duty exists are questions of fact for a jury. Otterman v. Harold’s Supermkts., Inc., 65 S.W. 3d at 555-56 (Mo. App. W.D.2001); Willis, 804 S.W.2d at 421; Turcol, 640 S.W.2d at 508.

Open and obvious can be a problem. Here Dora and Mary did not see it and neither did their sons. They did not know what they slipped on until lying on the ground and ‘black’ ice is so named because the ice blends in with asphalt and is difficult to see.