Jerelyn was a part-time paraeducator at an elementary school in Kennewick, Washington. One January morning she noticed it had snowed, dressed accordingly, then drove to the school without losing traction.

She began work at 10:30 a.m. Consequently, about 65 to 70 employees arrived before her.

After she got out of her car she slipped and fell in the snow. Her fall brushed away a thin layer of snow, revealing a layer of ice beneath.  The ice formed during the night when there was rainfall followed by lower temperatures and snow. 

Under the school district’s snow removal policy, the groundskeepers removed snow and ice from walkways and entryways first, then parking lots afterwards. Although the snow was visible in the parking lot as the groundskeepers were working on the walkways and entryways, the parking lot had never presented major concerns before, and none of the 65 to 70 employees who arrived before Jerelyn had reported anything.

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The case went to trial. A jury found for the school district. Jerelyn appealed.  The Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdict in favor of the school district.[1]

Jerelyn  was a business invitee. A business invitee is a person expressly or impliedly invited onto the premises for some purpose connected to the land possessor’s business interest or benefit.  A land possessor owes a business invitee a duty to exercise ordinary care for the invitee’s safety by keeping the premises reasonably safe for his or her

anticipated use.  The legal duty requires the possessor to inspect for dangerous conditions, followed by such repair, safeguards, or warning as may be reasonably necessary for the invitee’s protection under the circumstances.

Where the premises contain a dangerous condition not caused by the land possessor, the possessor’s duty regarding the danger does not arise until he or she receives actual or constructive notice of it.

Snow concealed the dangerous ice before Jerelyn slipped and fell. When she fell the school district had no more than general awareness of earlier precipitation and low temperatures in the staff parking lot. This general awareness persisted for only about three and one-half hours, during which the school district actively complied with its snow removal policy.

The Court of Appeals ruled that a rational jury could reasonably conclude the dangerous ice beneath the snow had not been called to the school district’s attention and knowledge.

Slip and fall cases are often difficult for the injury victim to win—contrary to a popular misconception that when someone is injured on another’s property there is more or less automatic responsibility on the part of the landowner or its insurance carrier.

If you have been injured in a slip and fall incident you should speak to a personal injury attorney early to increase the odds of gathering important evidence and the chances you may successfully pursue compensation for your injury.

By personal injury attorney Travis Scott Eller

[1] Biorn v. Kennewick School District No.17, unpublished opinion (No. 30887-1-III Nov. 26, 2013).