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If you've suffered a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk and are considering a lawsuit, something called the storm doctrine could impact the way your case plays out.
In states with a "storm doctrine" on the books, the law can limit the ability of plaintiffs to sue businesses for slip and fall accidents that occur on their property during a storm.
A recent case in Iowa reveals the contours of the continuing storm doctrine and fleshes out what exactly counts as a "storm."
What Is the 'Storm Doctrine'?
In general, businesses can face slip and fall liability when they fail to take reasonable steps to maintain a safe premises, including failing to clear slippery sidewalks. But several states have a legal doctrine called the "storm in progress doctrine." (It can go by other names as well, such as the "continuing" or "ongoing storm doctrine.")
Under this rule, business owners have a "reasonable time" to correct snow and ice hazards on their property, for a specified number of hours from the fall of the last snowflake. Any injuries that occur after that period of time, however, can trigger liability.
In Iowa, a state that follows a "storm in progress doctrine," a court ruled that a mall wasn't at fault for a woman who fell in its parking lot as freezing rain fell. The judge dismissed the lawsuit last year, agreeing with the mall owners that they had the right to wait until after the storm passed to remove ice, the Des Moines Register reports.
The woman appealed the case by arguing that the weather event wasn't a storm.
How Is 'Storm' Defined?
On appeal, the Iowa case centered on how severe or significant the weather event has to be to qualify as a "storm."
The appeals court sided with courts in other states that ruled the continuing storm doctrine -- or "storm in progress" doctrine -- is not limited to situations where blizzard conditions exist. The doctrine also applies in situations where there is "some type of less severe, yet still inclement winter weather," Judge Michael Mullins wrote in the appeals court opinion. As a result, the appeals court sided with the mall owners.
State laws on the continuing storm doctrine vary widely, so you'll want to consult a local personal injury attorney to figure out the law in your area and how it can impact your slip and fall case.