May 22, 2006
No sympathy for the plaintiffs, an 80-plus-year-old couple, who tripped and fell while trying to negotiate a snowpile in front of a Denny's restaurant. As we all know, one of the hazards of living in Ohio - besides enduring botched elections and botched executions - is being left without anyone to sue for a fall on ice or snow. Of course, that only applies to a "natural accumulation of ice and snow," leaving a potential remedy for those whose falls are occasioned by unnatural accumulations. That was the question in Dunbar v. Denny's Rest.: the parking lot had been plowed, and the plowing company piled up the snow up in front of the handicapped entrance. The elderly couple argued that the restaurant and the snow-plowing company "were negligent in creating a dangerous condition when [they] altered the natural accumulation of ice and snow by plowing the parking lot so as to create an unnatural mound of snow in front of the restaurant handicap ramp entrance."
The court wasn't buying. Noting prior decisions which had held that "when snow and ice are piled up by plowing or shoveling and then thaw and refreeze, the resulting ice is a natural accumulation," the court found that the ridge of ice and snow at the entrance to the handicapped ramp was an open and obvious hazard. If I were somewhat more enterprising, I might look up how the Americans with Disabilities Act might affect this situation.
The court deferred for another day resolution of whether the food at Denny's constitutes an open and obvious hazard.