MARLENA L. DAY, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
WILCOX LANDSCAPING, INC., CARROW CONSTRUCTION, LLC and SLEEPY HOLLOW LAWN CARE & LANDSCAPING, INC., Defendants Below, Appellees.
Submitted: February 7, 2018
Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware C A No.
STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA, VAUGHN, SEITZ and TRAYNOR
T. VAUGHN, JR. JUSTICE.
2nd day of May 2018, upon consideration of the
parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to
the Court that:
Appellant, Marlena Day, was injured when she slipped and fell
during a snow storm. She brought suit against the Appellees,
claiming that her injuries were proximately caused by
negligence on their part. The Superior Court granted summary
judgment for Appellees, ruling that the continuing storm
doctrine was a defense to the Appellant's claims of
negligence. Ms. Day appeals that ruling.
January 21, 2014, a winter storm hit Newark, Delaware.
According to weather records, snow was falling almost
continuously from approximately 9:18 a.m through the early
morning hours on January 22. In total, about eleven inches of
snow fell. No snow or ice was present in the Newark area
before the January 21 storm.
was a Sallie Mae employee working at the company's Newark
office building. On January 21 she arrived to work around
8:00 a.m. before the snow began. Sometime around noon she
decided to leave work and drive home before the weather and
road conditions worsened. When she walked outside to leave it
was snowing. She recalled the parking lot "looked like a
sheet of ice." As she stepped off the sidewalk and into
the parking lot she slipped and fell, injuring her right
Sallie Mae contracted with Appellee Wilcox Landscaping, Inc.,
to perform snow and ice removal at Sallie Mae's Newark
office building. Under their agreement, Wilcox was to remove
snow "from roadways and parking areas [by] plowing,
clearing, and salting of these areas to allow tenants to exit
from the property." In turn, Wilcox sub-contracted with
Appellees Carrow Construction, LLC, and Sleepy Hollow Lawn
Care & Landscaping, Inc., to provide snow and ice removal
as Wilcox directed.
filed suit against Wilcox, and later amended her complaint to
include Carrow and Sleepy Hollow, alleging negligence for
their failure to: maintain the premises in a safe condition;
inspect the premises for dangerous conditions; warn others of
dangerous conditions that existed; and act with reasonable
care in clearing the parking lot of snow and ice. Appellees
filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that under the
continuing storm doctrine their actions were reasonable
during the on-going snow storm. The Superior Court granted
the motions, finding that the continuing storm doctrine
applied. This appeal followed.
"This Court reviews de novo the Superior
Court's grant or denial of summary judgment 'to
determine whether, viewing the facts in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, the moving party has
demonstrated that there are no material issues of fact in
dispute and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law.'"
Generally, a landowner owes a duty to business invitees to
keep his premises safe for their benefit. This duty
includes keeping the property reasonably safe from
accumulations of ice and snow that occur
naturally. An exception to this general duty is known
as the continuing storm doctrine. Under that doctrine,
"in the absence of unusual circumstances, [a landowner]
is permitted to await the end of the storm and a reasonable
time thereafter to remove ice and snow from an outdoor
entrance walk, platform, or steps." The policy behind
this exception is that changing weather conditions due to a
storm make it "inexpedient and impracticable" for a
landowner "to take earlier effective action" to
clear their premises.
Recently, we reaffirmed our approval of the continuing storm
doctrine in Laine v. Speedway In
Laine, the plaintiff slipped on ice and fell near a
gas pump on the premises of a combination convenience
store-gas station. He had stopped at the store to fill up the
gas tank in his employer's van. The ice was caused by a
light, freezing rain which was then falling and continued
throughout the day. The Superior Court granted
defendant's motion for summary judgment based on the
continuing storm doctrine.
appeal, this Court "[held] to the view . . . that it is
reasonable for a landowner to wait until a storm ends and a
reasonable time thereafter before removing natural
accumulations of ice and snow created by a storm, in the
absence of unusual circumstances." We noted
"customers are expected to be aware themselves of the