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An Ice Deal for Wal-Mart
by Ron Davis

Was a slip-and-fall accident at an ice-covered North Texas shopping center simply caused by “natural phenomena”? Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., owner of the shopping center, contends that it was. And a Texas appellate court agrees.

The victim of the accident argued otherwise, however. She claimed that Wal-Mart should have removed the ice accumulation from the shopping center to prevent injuries such as the one she suffered. She accused Wal-Mart of making no effort to protect its customers from conditions that were obviously hazardous.

The storm that caused the ice accumulation occurred in late December and paralyzed all of North Texas, including the Sherman-area location of the shopping center. The accident victim had stopped at the Wal-Mart to purchase deicer products, and she slipped in the parking lot as she returned to her car. Her injuries from the fall required extensive medical treatment.

Evidence in the case shows that she may have been correct in her charge that Wal-Mart did not take measures to remove the ice from its parking lot or lessen the risk posed by the frozen accumulation in that lot. As a result, a jury determined that Wal-Mart was at least partially (70 percent) at fault, and a Texas district court ordered Wal-Mart to pay $196,175 in damages to the injured woman.

Wal-Mart appealed.

In reversing the damage award, the Texas appellate court explained, “A premises owner/operator does not have a duty to protect its invitees from conditions caused by a natural accumulation of frozen precipitation on its parking lot because such an accumulation does not constitute an unreasonably dangerous condition…. In light of our ‘no-duty’ holding, there is no evidence that Wal-Mart failed to exercise reasonable care to reduce or eliminate the risk caused by a condition posing an unreasonable risk of harm.”

In so ruling, however, the appellate-court judges pointed out that they limited their ‘no-duty’ decision to the Wal-Mart parking lot. They added, “The question of the duty owed with respect to natural accumulations of frozen precipitation occurring on sidewalks, entryways, and other areas intended for pedestrian traffic is not before us.” (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Surratt, 102 S.W.3d 437 [Tex.App.—Eastland 2003])

Decision: May 2003
Published: June: 2003



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