Articles Posted in Premises Liability

Winter can be a fun and beautiful season, with many New Hampshire residents enjoying ice-skating, sledding, and the winter holidays. However, with winter comes winter weather, which is some of the most dangerous weather and causes many slip and fall accidents each season. Even just walking down the street can lead to a tragic accident; individuals might slip on built-up snow or hidden ice and fall, potentially suffering broken bones, spinal cord injuries, hip injuries, and more. And going inside does not necessarily lessen the risk of an accident. Often, floors in grocery stores can become slippery as customers walk through snow and bring it in on their shoes, where it melts and poses a slipping hazard. New Hampshire residents should be aware of the risks that winter weather poses and their options for legal recourse should they be injured.

Many people who slip and fall because of ice or snow do not consider filing a claim against the responsible party because they assume that the accident was their fault, and that they should have been more careful. However, there are many times when another party, typically the property owner, is responsible for maintaining the premises and ensuring that sidewalks and walkways are free from hazardous conditions, such as built-up ice or snow. Property owners are also responsible for maintaining safe walking conditions inside their buildings, avoiding slippery floors whenever possible. This legal doctrine is called premises liability, and it generally applies to private homeowners, businesses, and even rental properties in most situations. Therefore, when someone is injured because a homeowner failed to shovel their walkway, or a business failed to keep their floors dry and free of tracked-in snow, that person can typically bring a civil negligence lawsuit against the responsible party.

These lawsuits can be complicated, with property owners arguing that they did their best to avoid the hazard, that they had no way of knowing about it, or that they warned visitors about the danger. Many plaintiffs may be dissuaded from filing a claim, fearing that it could result in a long, drawn-out case, costing time and energy that they would rather reserve for healing and getting their life back on track. But often victims are saddled with costs after an accident, and they may struggle to pay back medical bills or account for lost wages. As a result, consulting a personal injury attorney to assist with the case may take some of the stress off the victim while still earning them compensation.

Recently the state’s high court issued an opinion stemming from a New Hampshire slip and fall accident occurring in the plaintiff’s employer’s parking lot. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff slipped on ice in an employee parking lot as she exited her vehicle before beginning her shift as a nurse at the hospital. As a result of her slip and fall, she suffered severe injuries requiring surgery. Her employer, a hospital, was immune from liability, so the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the company that the hospital hired to clear snow and ice.

The plaintiff alleged that the snow company breached their duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition because they failed to clear and salt the parking lot. The plaintiff cited the contract between the snow removal company and the hospital. The contract provided that the company would clear the lots as frequently as possible, before each shift, and salt before and after a storm. The company moved for dismissal, arguing that they did not owe the woman a duty of care. The plaintiff appealed, contending, amongst other issues, that a duty exists under the doctrine of foreseeability and third-party liability.

Under New Hampshire law, plaintiffs intending to hold an at-fault party responsible for their injuries must meet the legal elements of a negligence claim. Generally, plaintiffs must establish that the at-fault party owed them a duty, that the defendant breached that duty, and that the breach resulted in foreseeable, proximate injuries and damages. In many cases, the foreseeability prong is easy to establish; however, challenges occur when the defendant argues that the victim’s injuries were not foreseeable or the party themselves were not a foreseeable plaintiff. New Hampshire law provides that parties owe a duty to those “foreseeably endangered by their conduct, whose likelihood and magnitude make the conduct unreasonably dangerous.” In this case, the court found that the snowplow services did not amount to unreasonably dangerous conduct, and the negligent activity did not outsize the harm sufficient to create a duty.

Recently, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire issued a ruling in an appeal stemming from a premises liability lawsuit against a property owner. The case originated after a man fell on a property while leaving a New Hampshire business. The man suffered injuries because of the fall, and he and his wife collectively filed a lawsuit against the property owner for negligence and loss of consortium. The couple alleged that the fall occurred because the stairs were inadequate, dangerous, and did not meet building codes. The complaint stated that the stairs were too steep and missing handrails.

Under New Hampshire law, property and business owners must ensure that their land is safe for guests and visitors. In most cases, if a person sustains injuries because of a dangerous condition on the property, they may be able to file a premises liability lawsuit against the owner. Some common places where these types of injuries occur are stores, apartment complexes, sidewalks, parks, restaurants, and residential homes.

In these cases, the victim must be able to establish that their injuries were because of the owner’s negligence or carelessness. Typical premises liability actions stem from slip and falls, property collapses, and animal bites. Often, a plaintiff will offer evidence that the property did not comply with applicable building and safety codes to establish liability. They may also point to dangerous aspects of the location, such as defects, missing safety features, poor lighting, disrepair, and lack of warning signs.

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