Is a business responsible for icy conditions outside the store?

When a customer slips and falls on an icy sidewalk outside the store, who is responsible if the customer is injured? Is it the customer or the business?

In most premises liability cases, the customer is responsible if the condition was “open and obvious,” but where the injury is caused by ice, Oklahoma law imposes a heightened duty on the business– even where the customer fully appreciates the presence of the ice that caused the fall.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently addressed this issue in Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Oklahoma City, 2014 OK 68. In Wood, a caterer arrived at a car dealership to work an event and noticed the entire grounds covered in a heavy sheet of ice after the sprinkler system was left on over night.

Due to the ice, the caterer carefully exited her car and maneuvered her way into the dealership. She was unable to locate her manager, and left to retrieve a cell phone. On the way back to her car, she nevertheless fell on the ice and sustained injuries.

In determining the dealership could be liable, the court recognized that “the open and obvious doctrine is not absolute . . . we have rejected the open and obvious doctrine for a hazardous accumulation of ice, caused or enhanced by a landowner, and determined the creation of such a dangerous condition would impose a legal duty on the owner to exercise care for the protection of third parties.”

Under the facts of the Wood case, the court held that the dealership “owed a duty to take remedial measures to protect [the caterer] from the icy conditions surrounding the entry to its facility.” The court reasoned this duty existed because (1) the ice was not caused by natural conditions; (2) the dealership knew of the conditions; and (3) it knew that caterers would be on site and required to walk across the dangerous condition created by the ice.

The Wood case presents a fairly unique situation, but the rationale extends to all slip and fall and premises liability cases. Where a business creates a hazardous condition, has knowledge of that condition, and then fails to take affirmative steps to remedy the danger, it may be liable for any injuries caused by slip and fall accidents.

If you have questions about premises liability or slip and fall accidents, call the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill, 918-935-2777.