This time of year we at Grimes Teich Anderson get a lot of calls regarding falls on ice. Sometimes people fall in parking lots of businesses or outside of storefronts. Many times these falls result in fractures and serious injuries. With high deductibles or no health insurance, people sometimes want to know if they can sue owners for their medical bills or for pain and suffering.
In the state of North Carolina, landowners are required to exercise reasonable care to provide for the safety of those visitors who are lawfully on their property. Whether a landowner’s care is reasonable is judged against the conduct of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances. What this means is that they are not held to higher standard, they must simply do what other reasonable people would do under the same circumstances. Additionally, landowners have no duty to protect a person from dangers which that person knows about, or dangers that are so obvious that it would be reasonable to think the person would discover those damages. Or to put it another way, the courts have said that a landowner doesn’t need to warn people of “apparent hazards or circumstances of which” the person has equal or superior knowledge.” Von Vicazy vs. Thoms. More specifically about store owners, the courts in North Carolina have even said that a “proprietor of a store is not an insurer of the safety of his customers” and that there is no presumption of negligence just because a customer sustains an injury on his premises. Skipper vs. Wayne Oil Co. Inc.
In the case of Wren v. Hilcrest Convalescent Home, Inc., the court found that the injured person had full knowledge of the icy conditions and that there was no evidence that the defendant had any “superior knowledge” of the icy conditions. They, therefore, denied the injured person any recovery of his damages.
In another similar case, Von Vicazy vs. Thoms, there were visible ice patches on a person’s driveway, which the injured person knew of before she walked down the driveway. The court also denied her recovery because she knew of the dangerous condition and there was again no evidence that the landowner had any superior knowledge of the icy condition than the injured person.
Many people fall on black ice, which is not visible to the injured person. How do North Carolina courts treat this? There isn’t a specific controlling case about this type of situation; however, as black ice is by its very nature not visible, based on the law, it may be difficult to show that the business owner or land owner had “superior knowledge” of the ice. However, there are situations in which there is evidence that the landowner did have this “superior knowledge” and were negligent in failing to warn people about it. This is why if you fall on ice, visible or black ice, there are always facts which could help you recover your medical bills and pain and suffering. It is best to call us to discuss the specifics of your case in more detail.
Senta Rhodes is a personal injury attorney at Grimes Teich Anderson