Dismissal of slip-and-fall lawsuit upheld by state’s Supreme Court

DOVER — On Monday the Delaware Supreme Court upheld the earlier dismissal of a lawsuit involving an injurious slip-and-fall accident at a Dover gas station four years ago.

Michael Laine took Speedway, LLC to court and claimed the business was responsible for keeping its Hess station clear from ice during a freezing rain on Jan. 10, 2014.

He sustained serious injuries when falling while stepping from a Modern Maturity Center shuttle bus he was driving, according to court papers.

In a 15-page opinion, however, Justice James T. Vaughn Jr. confirmed a Superior Court’s finding that no liability existed due to the state’s continuing storm doctrine allowing businesses to wait for clearing until a weather incident has passed.

The Supreme Court cited past case law involving multiple jurisdictions in its affirmation and determined “it is reasonable for a business owner to wait until a storm has ended and a reasonable time thereafter to remove natural accumulations of ice and snow in the absence of unusual circumstances.”

Mr. Laine believed, according to the opinion, that “we now live in an era in which commercial and residential property owners contract with companies that have highly mechanized snow and ice removal equipment.

“Such companies, the appellant argues, provide their services based on the weather, so that our ability to attend work, school, appointments, and recreational functions are rarely delayed.

“The appellant also argues that in this particular case, the two employees had a duty to inspect the premises for icing and a duty to warn customers of the ice through the use of cones or tape, or by simply deciding not to remain open.”

Justice Vaughn cited the “impracticability or ineffectiveness” of continually removing snow and ice accumulations as a storm continued.

“There is no evidence before us that Speedway could have effectively removed the ice from around its gasoline pumps, by some means, while the freezing rain continued to fall,” the Court determined.

The value of gas stations, convenience stores and pharmacies being open during storms is evident through providing gasoline, food, water, and medicine, Justice Vaughn maintained.

“Inviting litigation over how often one has to salt or shovel during an active storm could be costly and lead businesses to shut down, for fear of suits,” he said. “This could be detrimental to the many who must travel in active storm situations.”

Sometimes bad things happen, the Court argued, and there’s nobody to blame.

“As sad as the plaintiff’s injuries were, the reality is that there is no foolproof way to avoid the risk of slipping on ice,” Justice Vaughn wrote.

“Some injuries are not the legal fault of anyone, they are just the result of the reality that nothing in life is entirely safe, and surely not walking on ice or snow.

“That does not mean that these injuries are not important and unfortunate …”

Dover-based attorney Nicholas H. Rodriguez represented Mr. Laine, while attorneys Jessica L. Tyler and Sarah B. Cole of Wilmington argued for Speedway.

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