Licensed in Missouri and Kansas

Premises Liability: Special Rules with Snow and Ice Cases

As frigid Kansas City weather settles into the metro, the threat of snow, sleet, and ice is imminent. Here, we discuss winter weather injuries and when an injured person has a viable personal injury claim.

In snow and ice cases, the question is whether the possessor of the premises had a duty to protect others from the snow and ice dangers. And if so, whether they took reasonable steps to warn, barricade, or clear away the snow and ice. When snow and ice linger on one property when most others are clear, or the snow and ice has been worn down by foot traffic, melted and refrozen, or run off from a gutter and formed a new ice pool, there is a high likelihood that the possessor of the premises is liable.

A possessor of a premises can be the land owner, a management company, the lessee, or others having control of the property. In most premises liability cases, the possessor has a duty to use reasonable care to prevent injury to guests because of a dangerous condition existing on its premises, such as warning the guest of the hazard or fixing the dangerous condition.

However, snow and ice cases have their own special rules differing from other premises liability cases. Most importantly, the possessor has no duty to clear snow and ice that (1) accumulated naturally and (2) is a condition general within the community. Willis v. Springfield General Osteopathic Hospital, 804 S.W.2d 416, 419 (Mo. App. S.D. 1991); Agnew v. Dillons, Inc., 16 Kan. App. 2d 298 (1991). That is, the owner does not have a duty to remove naturally accumulating snow and ice on its property during a storm or a reasonable time thereafter. The reasoning for such a rule is persuasive:

[E]very pedestrian who ventures out at such time knows [he or she] is risking the chance of a fall and of a possible serious injury. A requirement that a business proprietor continually expend effort during a winter storm to remove precipitation from outdoor surfaces would essentially be a requirement to ensure the safety of invitees and is a burden which is beyond that of ordinary care. Furthermore, "since the storm had not finally terminated, the exercise of reasonable care no more required defendant to warn of the result of the weather than it did to remedy the result." Agnew, 16 Kan. App. at 301 (internal citations omitted).

And although possessors are generally responsible only for their own property, some cities, like Kansas City, require possessors to clear snow and ice from adjacent sidewalks.

For natural precipitation, the possessor is required to take remedial measures only when the snow or ice becomes an isolated condition compared to the general community. An isolated condition exists when the conditions on the property differ from the community. For example, if most other properties and businesses have cleared their walkways within a day of the storm, then any properties that have failed to clear the natural accumulations may be liable if that condition injures someone.

While that is the general rule in Kansas and Missouri, a duty to protect against falls may arise even during the snowstorm. For example:

By Conduct. If a landowner affirmatively alters the condition of the snow or ice on its premises, it has assumed the duty to remove that snow and ice from the premises. Otterman v. Harold’s Supermarkets, Inc. 65 S.W.3d 553, 555-56 (Mo. App. W.D. 2001); but see Ellis v. Jurea Apartments Inc. 875 S.W.2d 203, 207 (Mo. App. S.D. 1994) (removing snow from one part of the property does not establish assumed duty to remove it on the entire property).

By Agreement. If a landowner or landlord promises or contracts to keep the common areas clear of ice and snow, that owner might be obligated to keep those areas clear even during a weather event. O’Donnell v. PNK, LLC, 619 S.W.3d 162, 168 (Mo. App. E.D. 2021) (citing Alexander v. American Lodging, Inc., 786 S.W.2d 599, 601 (Mo. App. W.D. 1990); Worley v. Bradford Pointe Apartments, Inc., 31 Kan. App. 2d 737, 743 (2003).

Artificial Accumulation or Isolated Conditions Despite Generally Adverse Conditions Community-Wide. If a dangerous and isolated condition exists on the property that differs from the general community as a whole, the possessor is responsible for making it safe. See Lehman v. Hug, 614 S.W.2d 732 (Mo. App. W.D. 1981) (noting that “the existence of generally snowy conditions does not create an inference that there is a general condition of ice beneath the snow”). Similarly, property owners have a duty to remove snow and ice on its property artificially caused by the owner. This is true even in places an owner typically does not have a duty to remove snow at all. See Stein v. Mansion House Center, 647 S.W.2d 918, 919 (Mo. App. E.D. 1983); Wilson v. Goodland State Bank, 5 Kan. App. 2d 36, (1980) (although landowners don’t generally have a duty to clear snow on public sidewalks, an exception exists “where ice does not come from natural sources, but rather is artificially created by accumulation and discharge of water from the landowner's property which causes a hazardous condition”).

Regardless of when one begins clearing snow and ice, one must use reasonable care doing so. This can apply to the possessor, but it can also be a contractor like a snow removal company. For example, if a landowner salts a parking lot causing ice to melt, and that melted precipitation runs down the lot and later refreezes in a depression, that owner is responsible for causing that artificial ice condition. If a snow removal company caused the condition, the injured party may have a general negligence claim against that company.

While landowners have a duty to use reasonable care to prevent injury, snow and ice cases have their own special rules and must be handled accordingly. Contact Us to Handle Your Snow and Ice Premises Liability Cases. We have the experience and systems in place, we’ve prevailed in the appellate courts, and we’ve won at trial. Contact us to learn more.