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How Snow Removal Contracts Affect Personal Injury Slip and Fall Claims: Buckingham Management LLC v. Tri-Esco, Inc., A Case Study

The Known and Obvious Danger Premises Liability Case

This case presents an interesting situation – what happens when parties have a contract to do a certain thing, and when it is not done, someone is injured? In this case, Buckingham Management was running an apartment complex, and had contracted with Tri-Esco to remove snow and ice from the apartment parking lots when at least two inches of snow fell. Buckingham Management bought bags of salt every winter to salt the sidewalks around the apartments themselves. Tri-Esco only plowed and salted the streets and parking lots. However, the contract did not require Tri-Esco to do anything else with the parking lot and contained ambiguous language as to whether Tri-Esco had to salt the parking lot without Buckingham Management requesting it. Tri-Esco had never salted the parking lot without a request to do so from Buckingham Management.

On February 21, 2015, Tri-Esco plowed and salted the parking lots and streets, and employees of Buckingham Management salted the sidewalks. Over the next two days, the lots and streets were not salted or plowed, and the sidewalks were not shoveled or salted. On February 23, 2015, Deborah Perez arrived at the apartment complex, where her daughter lived. She noticed that the parking lot was covered in ice. She attempted to be cautious, however, while walking across the parking lot, she fell and injured her shoulder and arm. These injuries required surgery, and Perez then sued both Buckingham Management and Tri-Esco for negligence and failure to alert people to unsafe conditions.

Tri-Esco claimed that they had no duty to maintain the parking lot in the two days after they had initially salted and plowed, and that they had no control over the premises. The trial court granted a summary judgement in favor of Tri-Esco. On appeal, the Appellate Court held that there was no issue of material fact. Two out of three provisions in the contract stated that Tri-Esco would come to salt or plow only when it was requested that they do so, and that the contract itself had created no affirmative duty for Tri-Esco to maintain the lot in the two days leading up to the fall.

Applying This to Personal Injury Cases

This case can be useful when looking at other slip-and-fall and premises liability cases. Contract law also can come into play in other premises liability cases. Often, when a company is using land, and in instances where there is a sidewalk, street, or parking lot specifically, they may contract another company to take care of the parking lot. Or, if the owner of the land is leasing a specific spot to a company, the owner may still take care of the street, sidewalk, or parking lot themselves.

A question to look at first when determining who is liable in a premises liability case regarding a street, sidewalk, or parking lot is, “Who has control of the area and who is responsible for maintaining the area?” This can be helpful in determining who is liable for any injury suffered if the area is not safe or poorly maintained. However, a big issue can be two companies claiming they are not liable for the area, as happened in this case. If there is a contract between companies to clear a street, sidewalk, or parking lot, it is important to look at the plain language of the contract. If it says that a company must keep the area well-maintained, but states, as in this case, that the company has no obligation to do anything unless they are requested to do so, there is no affirmative obligation and that company may not be held liable for any injuries that occur.

However, if a company is contracted to keep an area safe and maintained, and it is expected to do so whenever the area needs maintenance, and no request is required, then there may be an affirmative obligation on the part of that company to maintain the area at all times to ensure it is safe. If this is the case then that company may be liable for any injuries that occur in the area or on the property that they are responsible for.

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