Frozen Out: Summary Judgment on a Snow and Ice Suit

Posted on May 25th, 2016 by sutteroconnell

Representing Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and a major facility services provider, Sutter O’Connell successfully defended a premises liability suit, with the Davidson County Circuit Court granting both of the firm’s clients summary judgment on May 25, 2016.

The Plaintiff, a school employee, allegedly slipped on an icy ramp, suffering knee injuries requiring surgery. The Plaintiff did not see ice or snow on the ramp himself, but believed he slipped on ice because there was wintry weather and the school had been closed for snow on the prior day.  A teacher at the school, who was friends with the Plaintiff, gave conflicting testimony regarding whether there was ice or snow on the ramp.  At deposition, he specifically stated he did not see the ramp at all on the date of the accident.  When confronted with a recorded statement taken closer in time to the accident, he testified he probably did see ice or snow on the ramp on that date.  A custodian testified he shoveled snow off the ramp the day before the accident and put salt down both the night before and the morning of the accident.

Sutter O’Connell advanced three arguments in favor of summary judgment. First, there was insufficient evidence of ice or snow on the ramp to establish the existence of a hazardous condition.  Second, if there was a hazardous condition, there was no evidence of either actual or constructive notice to Metro or its contractor.  Third, if there was ice or snow on the ramp, Plaintiff was 50% or more at fault for failing to avoid the condition.

The Court held that the record contained no evidence of actual or constructive notice which would trigger a duty to take any actions beyond the shoveling and salting which indisputably took place. The Court referenced Bowman v. State,[1] cited in Defendants’ motion, which limits property owners’ responsibility for ice or snow-related incidents: “[p]roperty owners are not required to keep their premises free of natural accumulations of snow and ice at all times.  Instead, they are expected to take reasonable steps to remove snow and ice within a reasonable time after it has formed or accumulated.”  In this case, Metro had taken reasonable steps to remove ice and snow, and even if it were present, it had not breached a duty to the Plaintiff.

Christopher Schroeck handled this case on behalf of the firm. He can be reached at (615) 771-5008 or via e-mail at cschroeck@sutter-law.com

[1] 206 S.W.3d 467 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006).