The Iowa Court of Appeals on Feb. 5 weighed into the murky issue of how to define a storm in Iowa when it ruled that a Cedar Falls mall wasn’t at fault for a woman who fell in its parking lot as freezing rain fell in 2009.
Karen Rochford and her husband, Jude, sued G.K. Development, the owner of College Square Mall claiming the company should have cleared ice from the mall’s sidewalks on Dec. 23, 2009. A Black Hawk County judge dismissed the lawsuit last year, agreeing with the mall owners that they had the right to wait until after the storm passed to remove ice.
Rochford appealed the decision, claiming the weather event that day did not constitute a storm. She said it was practical and expedient for the mall to remove ice from sidewalks while the weather event was ongoing.
However, the appeals court sided with the mall, saying that “whatever this `weather event’ is called, we find it was of sufficient significance to qualify to the application of the continuing storm doctrine.”
The Iowa Supreme Court has held in several cases that business owners must have a reasonable opportunity to remedy slippery conditions created by bad weather.
“While there is no Iowa case law that addresses how severe or significant the weather event has to be to qualify as a `storm,’ other jurisdictions have concluded that the continuing storm doctrine – or `storm in progress’ doctrine – is not limited to situations where blizzard conditions exist; it also applies in situations where there is some type of less severe, yet still inclement winter weather,” Judge Michael Mullins wrote in the appeals court opinion.
The case was heard by a three-member panel of the court that also included Chief Judge David Danilson and Anuradha Vaitheswaran.
The court said the evidence in the case indicated Rochford fell around 4 p.m. as freezing rain was falling. It continued to fall until about 10:30 p.m., when the temperature rose above freezing. The freezing rain led to sidewalks icing over.
“The freezing rain had not stopped before Karen’s fall, so the landlord was not yet under a duty to take steps to remove the ice,” Mullins wrote.
Des Moines attorney James Bryan, who represented G.K. Development, said the ruling is important for businesses in that it assures them time during bad weather to deal with ice and snow.
“It is an important ruling for businesses to know what their responsibilities are especially in a state like Iowa where we have significant winter weather as to what they need to do when a storm comes as far as their duties to their customers,” he said.
Rochford’s lawyer, Christopher O’Donohoe of New Hampton, did not immediately return a message.