“Snowstorm Slip & Fall - A Forensic Meteorologist Story”
By Randy Bass, CCM - Southeast Virginia
Published: March 24, 2023
I was hired by a firm representing a convenience store because a woman slipped and fell in their parking lot while walking to the bathroom located in the back of the building. It was snowing at the time, but the victim alleged she fell on ice underneath the snow. She claimed the ice wasn't a result of the snow and should have been cleared - so therefore the store was negligent.
The store had video of her walking from her vehicle, located at the gas pumps, going into the store, and leaving the store and walking around the corner of the building. Another camera showed her walking gingerly along the side and around some kind of equipment, still in the parking lot, and then suddenly slipping and falling. Subsequent video showed her trying to get up, and then others coming to her aid. It was apparent that she had injured her ankle rather severely, as well as her hand where she tried to break her fall. It certainly looked bad for my client's case.
I did my research and found the snow started about an hour before [the incident]. This was in southeast Virginia, where they don't get a lot of snow, so it was a rather rare occurrence. From the surveillance video I ascertained that almost an inch of snow had fallen, and temperatures were below freezing so the snow didn't melt at all.
The equipment on the side of the building seemed to be some kind of pump or generator that could have released water onto the pavement, which is what the victim's representation claimed.
But as I watched and rewatched the video, something didn't seem right. There didn't seem to be any evidence of ice beneath the snow based on her footprints leading up to the fall. And others helping her didn't seem to have any traction problems. Then I noticed where she fell was exactly where the pavement was painted for the parking spaces. I realized she didn't fall due to ice, she fell because the painted asphalt was slick. There was no ice underneath the snow!
And because property owners - at least in Virginia - are usually not held liable for slip and falls during snowfall events (at least that's what I've been told by several lawyers on both sides), the convenience store was not negligent. The case was quickly settled out of court and my client was happy.
A couple of caveats:
- I do not know whether they were declared negligent due to the slick paint. Details of the settlement were sealed.
- I did not present my findings regarding the slick paint area as a formal report, as technically that is beyond my expertise as a meteorologist. I merely pointed out what I observed to the lawyer, and they took it from there. But I still got paid for my services!