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What's the 'storm in progress' doctrine?

If the weather outside is less than delightful, you know to be careful when you step out of your car in a parking lot. But what happens if the parking lot is still a disaster and you end up slipping, falling and injuring yourself anyhow?

Whether or not you can hold the property owner liable may depend on the "storm in progress" doctrine and what you can prove about the conditions of the lot.

Under the law in New York, you can't hold a property owner responsible for a parking lot that's covered in ice and snow when there hasn't been enough time to do anything about it. In addition, it's important to understand that -- despite the name of the doctrine -- there doesn't have to actually be a winter storm happening for a property owner to claim that there hadn't been any time to improve the condition of the lot. It's enough if the weather has just been basically lousy, snowing on and off, or even thawing and freezing again with sudden fluctuations in temperature.

The law is designed to acknowledge the very real problems and hazards created during winter. It also puts a reasonable amount of responsibility on everyone involved.

The law does not protect, however, a property owner who simply lets a lot sit with snow and ice day after day because it looks like it might snow again. It also doesn't protect owners who do a haphazard job of cleaning the lot -- which can actually make the ground harder to walk on. A lot that's been scraped smooth and left unsalted, for example, could be even harder to walk across than one that was simply covered in snow.

If you've been seriously injured in a fall on a parking lot that was left a snowy, icy mess well after the last winter blast went through, you could have the right to file a premises liability claim against the owner -- but only if the conditions are right.

Source: Insurance Advocate, "Storm in Progress Defense Applies Even if Temperatures Warmed Up at Time of Accident," Lawrence Rogak, accessed Jan. 26, 2018

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