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MA Sets Snow Rules for TX
by Ron Davis

A visitor to a Texas shopping center trying to recover from a freak winter storm should have realized the danger of ice accumulation and taken precautions for his safety. So ruled the courts in a slip-and-fall lawsuit against Sikes Senter Mall in Wichita Falls.

In that lawsuit, the visitor suffered an injury from the fall while walking from his car to a Sears, Roebuck store located at the center. He apparently slipped on ice that had accumulated near the Sears entrance, and the fall resulted in a fractured hip.

The accident occurred during the early morning hours, and a company that the center hired to maintain the common areas had begun spreading salt on the sidewalks but had not reached the entrance to the Sears store. The victim of the fall nevertheless claimed that the center’s owners had not acted to protect him from the icy sidewalks.

Under Texas law, a property owner owes a duty to a visitor “to exercise reasonable care to protect against danger from a condition that creates an unreasonable risk of harm of which the owner knew of or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover.”

In determining liability in such matters, however, a state can follow either the “Connecticut Rule” or the “Massachusetts Rule.”

The former holds that an accumulation of ice or snow may impose upon a landlord a liability for injuries, provided he knew, or reasonably should have known, of the existence of the dangerous condition and failed to exercise reasonable care to provide against injury.

The latter holds that there is no duty on the part of the landlord to remove ice and snow that naturally accumulates.

Primarily because the accumulation of ice is unusual in Texas, the courts there chose to follow the Massachusetts Rule. Explained the judges, “Holding a landowner accountable for naturally accumulating [ice] that remains in its natural state would be a heavy burden because [precipitation] is beyond the control of landowners.... Accidents involving naturally accumulating [ice] are bound to happen, regardless of the precautions taken by landowners. Generally, invitees are at least as aware as landowners of the existence of [ice] that has accumulated naturally outdoors and will often be in a better position to take immediate precautions against injury.” (Gagne v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 2006 WL 2008852 [Tex.App.-Waco])

Decision: July 2006
Published: August 2006



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