Placing blame may be a slippery situation

David Yochum

Are apartment complexes accountable for accidents caused by snow and ice?

Parts of the Holly Park Apartments’ parking lot that do not receive much traffic or direct sunlight are still covered in snow and ice.

Amanda Sowards | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Two cars lose traction and collide in a snow-covered parking lot.

The lot belongs to an off-campus apartment complex, such as Holly Park or Eagles Landing.

Because the parking area has not been plowed or salted, can the accident be blamed on the property owner for neglecting the hazardous lot?

According to the Ohio Supreme Court, local attorney and apartment manager interpretations of Ohio law, property owners have almost no responsibility to remove snow and ice from their lots or sidewalks under any circumstances. Moreover, if they do choose to remove snow and ice, property owners may be setting themselves up for a lawsuit.

“If the premise owner moves natural accumulation of snow and that snow causes an automotive accident, then they could be at fault,” explained Matthew Stewart, attorney at Kisling, Nestico & Redick in Akron. “Otherwise, the first fault is always going to lie with the driver.”

Both Scott Flynn, attorney at Flynn & DeRhodes in Kent, and Carol Crimi, attorney at Kent State Student Legal Services, agreed with Stewart.

They said property owners are not responsible for the natural accumulation of ice and snow — opinions that were shaped by Ohio Supreme Court rulings in Debie v. Cochran Pharmacy-Berwick, Inc. (1967), Sidle v. Humphrey (1968) and Brinkman v. Ross (1993).

However, there may be exceptions to Ohio law.

Flynn said if an accident victim could prove a property owner was made aware of an unnatural snow or ice problem and the owner was negligent in addressing that problem, then the victim may have a case.

Additionally, Crimi said if a landlord stipulates in a contract that he or she will provide snow removal and does not follow through, then the landlord would be at fault for an accident.

But it seems local apartment managers have been careful with their lease agreements.

“We can’t be sued,” said Debby Wells, Holly Park property manager. “There is nothing in our lease about snow removal.”

Despite the lease agreement, Wells said Holly Park maintenance plows and salts sidewalks, entry ways and intersections when snow accumulation exceeds two inches.

Yet that doesn’t help Holly Park resident Anthony Haddad.

“They plow up front, but in back I don’t think they do anything,” said Haddad, junior justice studies major. “I slide all the time and I have winter tires.”

Phil Siegel, Eagles Landing apartments manager, said his maintenance staff also plows and salts lots when there is more than two inches of snowfall, but added there is nothing in Eagles Landing lease agreements concerning snow removal.

“We have had no accidents reported, but if we did we would not be the least bit responsible for them,” Siegel said. “That would fall under the driver’s insurance.”

Contact public affairs reporter David Yochum at [email protected].