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How Does New York’s “Storm in Progress” Doctrine Affect Snow and Ice Injury Claims?

Throughout the Northeast, winter weather means that sidewalks, parking lots and even indoor floors pose a danger. Property owners and managers are responsible for clearing snow and ice from their premises so guests on their property don’t suffer slip and fall injuries. However, the question of when this duty arises might be more complicated than you think.

New York uses the “storm in progress” doctrine when determining if a defendant is liable for clearing their walkways during winter weather. This means that the duty to clear out snow or ice is suspended for the period when the precipitation continues to fall and for a reasonable period thereafter. In Sherman v. New York State Thruway Authority, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a state trooper who slipped and fell on a slick sidewalk outside his barracks while an ice storm was still taking place.

These “storm in progress” cases can turn on weather data for a specific time period, so even a shift of a few degrees in temperature could affect whether a slip and fall defendant is liable. Judge Rivera dissented in Sherman, stating that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the conditions had warmed up enough by the time the injury occurred for the precipitation to turn completely to rain. With no more accumulation taking place, the clock would start running for a defendant’s responsibility to address the hazardous walkway.

The purpose of the ‘storm in progress” doctrine is to prevent situations where property owners are forced to shovel, salt or mop slick surfaces constantly. This defense can even apply to indoor areas where snow, ice or moisture is tracked in by people entering from outside. Other factors might come into play when determining what constitutes a reasonable response to winter weather. For example, the Thruway Authority in Sherman explained that the crews responsible for clearing the sidewalk needed to take care of the road and service areas first. The time of day or night when a storm ends could also affect how much time someone has to make their area safe.

If you have been hurt in a slip and fall caused by winter weather, the accomplished attorneys at Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, LLP can help. We represent victims of injuries throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties and will give you knowledgeable advice on how the law applies in your case.