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Garvin v. Landscaping

Superior Court of Delaware

September 27, 2019

HELENA GARVIN Plaintiff,
v.
WILCOX LANDSCAPING, Defendant.

          Submitted: June 13, 2019

         Upon Consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

          ORDER

          CHARLES E. BUTLER, JUDGE.

         This 27th day of September 2019, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, it appears to the Court that:

1. This is a personal injury action in which the Plaintiff alleges that she suffered injuries as a result of a fall she took outside an office building in Newark, Delaware.
2. Defendant is the contractor whose responsibilities included snow and ice removal from the sidewalks around the building.[1] Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was negligent by not removing accumulated ice and snow from the sidewalk.[2] She alleges that Defendant's negligence caused her slip and fall and resultant injuries.[3]
3. As developed in discovery, on February 15, 2016, the Plaintiff heard from a co-worker that it was icy outside.[4] She went to her car to allow it a few minutes to warm up before ending her shift at 9 pm.[5] As Plaintiff exited the front of the building, at or around 8:50 pm, she felt that it was raining.[6] She also noticed ice on the sidewalk.[7] Upon taking a few steps out of the building, she slipped, fell and after a brief period of unconsciousness, was awakened by the rain hitting her face.[8]Plaintiffs own weather data shows a continuous period of light snow, fog and freezing rain from mid-morning until late night on the evening Plaintiff fell.[9]
4. A commercial party generally has an affirmative duty to make its premises safe for business invitees.[10] A business owner must also keep the premises safe from accumulations of snow and ice.[11] The continuing storm doctrine suspends this duty and permits the owner to wait a reasonable time after the storm ends before removing ice and snow from an entranceway, platform or steps.[12] The policy behind this exception is that due to rapidly changing weather conditions during a storm, it is inexpedient and impracticable to take earlier action.[13]
5. The Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the continuing storm doctrine suspended its duty to make the premises safe until a reasonable time elapsed after the storm ended.[14]
6. Plaintiff argues that the continuing storm doctrine only raises contested issues of fact and the contested facts should be determined by a jury.[15] Plaintiff suggests the storm was not continuous, "there were multiple periods of time when no precipitation was falling."[16] Plaintiff states there were periods of overcast, earlier in the day, according to the submitted weather report from 6:51 am - 9:51 am.[17]
7. This Court will grant summary judgment where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."[18] The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that the undisputed facts make judgment appropriate.[19] If that burden is satisfied, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there are material issues of fact that must proceed to trial.[20]
8. Here, Plaintiff testified under oath that it was raining when she exited the building.[21] The weather data submitted by Plaintiff shows freezing temperatures all day.[22] Her description of the weather conditions made it clear that she and her co-workers were aware that it was snowing and/or raining most of the day and the storm had not ceased.[23] Plaintiff went outside specifically aware of the continuing storm in order to warm up her car.[24] She put on her snow boots to protect from the accumulated snow and ice.[25] Plaintiffs exhibit shows continuous inclement conditions (various periods of light snow, ice and freezing rain) from 10:51 am and persisting well after 8:51 pm when Plaintiff fell.[26] There are no contested issues of material fact for a jury to decide. The evidence and deposition testimony show the storm had not ceased. Defendant's duty to remove accumulated snow or ice was not triggered until a reasonable time after the storm abated. Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
9. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         IT ...


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