Date: June 2019
Winters in Minnesota pose an increased risk of slipping and falling caused by snow and ice. Property/casualty or workers’ compensation coverage responds to slip, trip and fall claims, depending on who is injured. It is important for members to understand the liabilities, responsibilities and potential defenses involved in a slip, trip and fall claim.
Casualty (Liability) Claims
It is not unusual for MCIT to receive slip and fall claims from the public (i.e., third parties) alleging liability against a member due to snow or ice on a member sidewalk or in a parking lot. Several defenses are available for negligence claims.
One of the simplest defenses is commonly referred to as the “open and obvious doctrine.” Snow and ice are expected to occur during the winter in Minnesota, and individuals walking outside during these months should anticipate the possibility of slippery areas. Although this does not relieve a property owner or municipality from the duty of providing safe ingress and egress, it does allow for reasonable expectations in keeping these areas clear of snow and ice.
Snow and Ice Immunity
The Legislature has recognized that it would be potentially disastrous for governmental entities to take on the liability for all accidents occurring on snow- or ice-covered sidewalks and parking lots. Under Minnesota Statutes, Section 466.03, Subdivision 4, a municipality is immune from liability for usual and natural accumulation of snow or ice on any public sidewalk that does not abut a publicly owned building or parking lot, except when the condition is caused by the negligent acts of the municipality.
Mere Slipperiness Doctrine
The mere slipperiness doctrine applies to sidewalks and parking lots that abut publicly owned buildings. A municipality will not be held liable for injuries on newly formed glare ice if nothing but the mere slipperiness caused the accident. The municipality may, however, be held liable if it allows snow and ice to accumulate and remain long enough for “slippery and dangerous ridges, hummocks, depressions and other irregularities to develop.”1 It will generally not apply where a facility is operated for profit or where an accumulation is caused by artificial means.2
Official Immunity, Vicarious Official Immunity
Courts have recognized a need to protect public employees from liability for decisions made using professional discretion. Otherwise known as official immunity, this type of immunity was created to ensure
that the threat of potential liability does not unduly inhibit the exercise of discretion required of public officers and employees while performing their jobs. A discretionary act is one in which an official/employee must exercise judgment or discretion.3
An example of the official immunity defense involved a pedestrian who slipped and fell while crossing a city street. The pedestrian sued the city for damages sustained from the icy condition, arguing that in part the city was negligent for failing to sand the street. Ranking the order in which to sand streets was a discretionary act protected by official immunity.4
Vicarious official immunity allows the government to receive an employee’s official immunity. Vicarious official immunity extends to the governmental employer when the threat of potential liability would deter or have a chilling effect on the independent action of the employee. The action must be in furtherance of the government entity’s purpose.5
Official immunity is lost if the employee acts with malice or performs ministerial duties.
Medical Payments Coverage
The MCIT Coverage Document provides discretionary medical payments (med pay) coverage for medical expenses incurred by a third party injured on or about premises a member owns or rents generally regardless of fault. The word “discretionary” differentiates MCIT coverage from that of the private insurance market. It means that MCIT pays medical expenses only when the member or MCIT determines that it is in the mutual best interest to do so.
Injuries occurring when an employee is traveling to and from work are generally not covered under workers’ compensation coverage (some exceptions apply). An employer does have an affirmative duty to provide a safe ingress or egress for their employees from the parking lot.
In determining liability for an injury on a route of ingress or egress, the courts look to two factors: ownership/control of the parking lot and any directions by the employer.6 If the employer owns or leases the parking lot and an injury occurs between the parking lot and the building entrance, the injury is likely a covered injury under workers’ compensation.7
Similarly, if the employer does not own the parking lot but merely directs employees to park in a specific location, injuries occurring between that location and the building may be covered. If, however, the employer does not direct the employee where to park and does not provide parking, injuries occurring between an employee’s car and the building may not be covered.8
The courts, as evidenced previously, are more likely to assess liability to employers for injuries to an employee crossing from a parking lot than they do a member of the general public. With good snow and ice removal policies and parking lot maintenance policies, members may not be able to eliminate the risk completely, but they may be able to mitigate some of it for both their employees and members of the public.
Despite reasonable efforts, slip and fall incidents still occur on member property. MCIT is prepared to handle these claims fairly, while defending the member against liability allegations when appropriate. For more information or ideas to mitigate losses, members can contact MCIT toll-free at 1.866.547.6516.