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R.I.S.C. affirms "Connecticut" Rule for Landlord Liability

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has affirmed the use of the "Connecticut" rule with respect to when a landlord has an obligation to begin removing snow and ice following a storm.  The rule states that the landlord does not have a duty to begin removing the snow or ice until the storm stops.  Nonetheless, the Court held that plaintiff's own inconsistent statements about the weather created an issue of fact that prevented summary judgment. 

In this case, the defendant doctor had performed surgery on plaintiff's leg and foot.  Plaintiff was going to the doctor's office  for a follow up appointment.  She was using crutches, slipped on a ramp into the doctor's office, fell on the leg and foot and allegedly suffered permanent injuries. 

During the litigation, plaintiff gave varied statements about the weather at the time of the accident.  In her complaint, she alleged the snow was accumulating.  In her deposition, she said there had been a mix of snow and rain but at the time of the accident the ramp was just wet with no accumulation.  In her prebriefing statement to the Court, she said it was not snowing when she arrived at defendant's office.  The trial court apparently accepted the version most favorable to the defendant, i.e., the snow was still accumulating, applied the Connecticut rule and granted summary judgment.

However, the Supreme Court apparently indicates that the plaintiff's own inconsistent statements create an issue of fact in that the trial court should have accepted the version most favorable to the plaintiff which is that the snowstorm had stopped but that the ramp was still wet and slippery.  It held the trial court should not have granted summary judgment.

The Supreme Court held that the doctor did not owe a heighted duty of care to the plaintiff, distinguishing a prior decision, Terry v. Central Auto Radiators, Inc., 732 A.2d 713 (R.I. 1999), that had created an exception to the "Connecticut" rule.  In Terry, the storm had ceased but the property owner sent the plaintiff to an untreated back lot to retrieve her own car when she had expected to find it in the treated front lot.  The Court said the property owner had exacerbated plaintiff's risk by moving the car to a more dangerous location.  Here, the defendant doctor did nothing to exacerbate the risk the plaintiff faced. 

The Court vacated summary judgment and remanded the case for trial. 

Sullo v. Greenberg, 2013 WL 3013623 (R.I. June 18, 2013)

http://www.sfandllaw.com/Practice-Areas/Personal-Injury-Defense.shtml

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