Wyoming slip and fall injury laws

What I say here is specific to Wyoming. But the general principles may also be applicable in Idaho and other mountain states.

If you’ve lived in Wyoming, you know it can snow or freeze in any month of the year.

That makes it challenging to keep walkways free and clear from ice. Everyone knows that. Nonetheless, folks do slip and fall on ice or other slippery substances. Unfortunately, a slip and fall can have huge consequences for the rest of your life.

One slip can crack a person’s back and make him paraplegic. It happens. If you can never walk again, how will you work? How will you put food on the table? You’ve got bills and how are those going to get paid? How are you going to take care of your family?

When is the slippery surface the landowner’s fault, and when is the injury just part of life?

The law recognizes a couple principles.

To start, let’s talk about icy slip and falls.

Open and obvious hazard.

First, people in Wyoming are tough. No one is looking for a handout. If the icy surface is “open and obvious,” then in some cases the law will say that you should have been on guard against falling. In that situation, you’re comparatively at fault. If you knew it was slippery and walked out on it anyway, you may share a percentage of the blame. A jury figures out how much of it is your fault and reduces your recovery accordingly.

I don’t want you to read one sentence on comparative fault and jump to conclusions. Even if you could tell it was icy, or you knew it was cold out, or you thought you should be careful, well, that doesn’t mean the law prohibits your claim. This analysis is fact-intensive. Was it as icy as it looked? Were you trying to be cautious and the ice was unexpectedly bad? Did you have another option?

Don’t think that just because hindsight is 20-20, you’re somehow solely responsible.

Natural accumulation.

The other principle is the natural accumulation principle. A property owner is not responsible for “natural accumulations” of snow and ice. If they don’t maintain that part of their land, then they’re not responsible. Sometimes people don’t maintain their entire parking lot. The property owner isn’t responsible to clear all the snow and ice everywhere all the time.

That makes sense.

Where it gets interesting is when the property owner attempts to clear the snow and ice and doesn’t do a good job.

For example, a store will try to keep its entryway clear. If the store owner doesn’t clear it properly, are they responsible? Maybe. Likely. What if the store owner clears the entryway by shoveling snow into the parking lot? And then you slip on that big pile of snow that the store owner put there? What if the store owner mops the entryway and then empties the water bucket in the driveway where it freezes?

Once the store owner takes up the job of keeping clearing snow in an area, they are required to do a good job. If they try and keep it safe and screw it up, they’re responsible.

Again, this is very fact-intensive. For example, what if the store owner doesn’t maintain the parking lot? A crack or low point develops in the middle of the parking lot and fills with ice. Is that a natural accumulation? Or is that the store owner’s fault for failing to maintain a parking lot that is open to the public. In some cases, that’s the store owner’s fault.

Non-icy falls.

Then there are all the slip and falls that are not caused by ice and snow. Even in Wyoming, that’s a lot of slip and falls.

Imagine you’re at the grocery store and you slip and fall on a wet spot. If the floor is wet because the store mopped up a spill and put out that yellow tent sign like they’re supposed to, then maybe that hazard was “open and obvious.” Same principle as above. But what if they didn’t put out a sign and you slipped on a wet spot. That’s not open and obvious. And it’s not a natural accumulation either. That’s something you should recover for.

I want to arm you with knowledge. I want you to understand what principles affect your slip and fall claim. What I don’t want you to do is make legal conclusions on your own. You may think I am going to tell you something you don’t want to hear (like “I’m sorry. That’s tough. It’s probably not their fault. You don’t have a case.”). I could tell you that.

But let’s put in the work to be sure. I may hire an investigator to conduct interviews. I may get security camera footage. I may have someone take photos. I may hire an expert on how a big box store maintains its parking lot.

What can you do if you were injured in a slip and fall?

If possible, take photos. Take photos of what you slipped on. Everyone has a smartphone camera in their pocket nowadays.

I’ve had clients come in with text messages from the store owner explaining what happened. If you have those great. If you don’t, then don’t go out and get them on your own. Leave the store owner alone. Communicate through an attorney or investigator so you don’t affect your claim.

There may be a form that the store wants you to fill out after you fall. I’d be real careful about signing anything. You can certainly cooperate in their investigation of what happened. Just don’t let them put words in your mouth. In fact, just don’t sign anything without talking to a lawyer.

In these kinds of cases, the fall happens in an instant. But the injury can affect you for the rest of your life. Take the time to deal with it right.