Negligence Regarding Slip and Fall Cases on Ice and Snow in Rhode Island

In a decision released today – Carlo P. Berardis v. Bounthinh Louangxay, et al, No. 08-184 (May 12, 2009), the RI Supreme Court affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the defendants and reiterated that Rhode Island follows the “Connecticut Rule” regarding the duty of a landowner or business owner in the natural accumulation of ice and snow on their property.

This rule, as we apply it, provides that a landlord or business invitor owes a duty to a tenant or business invitee “to use reasonable care to see that the common areas are kept reasonably safe from the dangers created by an accumulation of snow and ice which is attributed to purely natural causes.” Id. at 772, 279 A.2d at 440 (adopting the Connecticut Rule in the landlord-tenant context); see also Terry v. Central Auto Radiators, Inc., 732 A.2d 713, 716 (R.I. 1999) (extending rule to business invitor/invitee relationship). The landlord or invitor, however, must be afforded “a reasonable time after the storm has ceased to remove the accumulation.” Benaski, 899 A.2d at 503 (quoting Fuller, 108 R.I. at 774, 279 A.2d at 441). Therefore, as a general rule, any duty to clear a natural accumulation of ice and snow is not triggered before a reasonable time after the storm ends. Id. Under unusual circumstances, however, the duty to remove the accumulation may arise before the end of the storm. Terry, 732 A.2d at 717.

The Court held that the fact that the incident occurred at the entranceway to the premises did not justify departure from this rule.  The Court also concluded that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that any unusual circumstances existed in the case that would have required the defendants to clear the entranceway of ice and snow before the end of the storm.  The Court reasoned that the plaintiff failed to point to any conduct by the defendants that exacerbated or increased the risk naturally occurring during a winter snowstorm, which the plaintiff voluntarily undertook when he patronized the restaurant and bar.

NOTE: The “Connecticut rule” is to be distinguished from the so-called “Massachusetts Rule,” which provides that a landlord has no legal obligation to remove the natural accumulation of snow and ice from common areas.

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