Premises Liability Case Law Update

  • Jun 16, 2020

Legal Update by Attorney Clarissa Bierstedt

On June 5, 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a Ruling in the case of Debra Gries v. Ames Ecumenical Housing, Inc. d/b/a Stonehaven Apts. In the case, Plaintiff, Debra Gries, claimed she slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside her apartment building. The Defendant argued that it was storming at the time of Gries’ fall, and that the continuing storm doctrine thus applied meaning it had no duty at the time Gries fell to remove or ameliorate the accumulation of snow or ice on the sidewalk. In her appeal, Gries asked the Court to abandon the continuing storm doctrine altogether.

The continuing storm doctrine is long-standing in Iowa and provides: a “land possessor has no duty to remove the natural accumulation of snow or ice during an ongoing storm and for a reasonable time after the cessation of the storm.”

In its Ruling, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the validity of the continuing storm doctrine. The Court stated:The continuing storm doctrine is a long-standing articulated countervailing principle or policy that warrants limiting liability for land possessors as a result of injury caused by the ongoing accumulation of ice or snow. At the eye of the continuing storm doctrine is a recognition of the feebleness of human…efforts in attempting to cope with the power of the elements. Because of our recognized feebleness in coping with the elements, the continuing-storm doctrine suspends a property owner’s general duty to exercise reasonable care in warning of or removing snow and ice hazards until a reasonable time after the storm because continually clearing ice and snow during an ongoing storm would be impracticable. (Citations omitted)

The Court held that the doctrine “reflects a widespread policy consensus that land possessors should not be forced to undertake snow or ice removal in the midst of a storm. The overall social costs of requiring people to go outside and clear during a storm exceed the overall social benefits of cleared passageways that will soon be covered over by additional accumulation.” The Court clarified the standard to be applied, stating “mere precipitation is not enough…there must be meaningful, ongoing accumulation of snow or ice.”

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