The Ongoing Storm Rule and Homeowners
The Appellate Division on October 8, 2020 applied the Pareja to a private homeowner in Berniz v. Atkins. In this unpublished case, a housekeeper was working at a private home. During the course of the day, snow continued to fall and she was instructed to move her car from the driveway to the street to allow for the driveway to be plowed later in the day. When she finished her work, the driveway had yet to be plowed at all and it was getting dark. On her way to the car, while the snow was still falling, she slipped and fell.
The Appellate Division applied Pareja and firmly rejected the ongoing storm rule, overturning the lower court’s finding of summary judgment. In allowing the case to proceed to trial despite the ongoing storm, the Court stated that defendants have a duty to business invitees when a dangerous condition (such as an icy driveway) is known regardless of whether snow was continuing to fall. The Court went on to conclude that the question of whether the homeowner acted reasonably is a matter for the jury.
While this unpublished case does say that a private homeowner may be liable when someone slips on ice/snow on their property even during a snowstorm, it is important to note the role of the housekeeper. Generally speaking, individuals who come to a private home for commercial reasons (such as a housekeeper) are owed a higher duty of care then those who come to a home for purely social reasons. Consequently, the rule may apply differently, for example, if someone leaves a home from a party. Regardless, just as with commercial landowners, homeowners have a duty to act reasonably; whether they did so during a storm may now be up to the jury. There is no absolute liability for anyone who is on a homeowner’s property and falls on ice and a homeowner is not obligated to shovel throughout a snowstorm.
To better protect yourself as a homeowner, consider rescheduling anyone who is set to work on your home if a large storm is predicted, sending them home early if you see that the snow is getting worse, or assisting them as they come and go. Small steps such as these can prevent accidents from happening and better protect homeowners from lawsuits.
There is currently a pending appeal to the State Supreme Court on the future of the “ongoing storm rule.” Check back here for updates as this issue develops.
If you have any questions about how this decision impacts you, contact Joseph V. Leone, Esq. at firstname.lastname@example.org or Amelia Lyte, Esq. at email@example.com or call 732-545-4717 for more information.