Morrison Mahoney partner Douglas Price and associate Stephen Ryan recently obtained Summary Judgment in the Providence County Superior Court following extensive briefing and oral argument in a premises liability case.

We represented a grocery store chain in a personal injury suit filed by one of the store’s customers. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that she was traversing an exterior ramp to enter the store when she slipped and fell on snow covered ice. As a result of the fall, plaintiff fractured her wrist, which required multiple surgical procedures to repair. In addition to significant medical bills related to her treatment, she also claimed damages in the form of extensive lost wages and lost future earning capacity.

Plaintiff sued our client (a tenant at the subject property), the landlord, and the snow removal contractor retained by the landlord, alleging that each breached a duty of care owed to the plaintiff by neglecting to keep the premises reasonably clear of the subject accumulation of ice and snow.

Based on the language of the lease between our client and their landlord, we were able to successfully argue that the ramp at issue was a “common area” under the lease and that the landlord, as a matter of law, was required to maintain that area, including the removal of snow and ice hazards.

The wrinkle here was that, in the past,  our client had a practice of clearing snow and ice from the subject ramp, if snow removal by the party responsible for the area was not done sufficiently. Based on this, the plaintiff and co-defendant landlord argued that our client had assumed a duty for the area.

We were able to persuade the Court, based on Rhode Island case law, that there had to be evidence that we had performed snow removal services on the ramp that day and had negligently made the condition of the ramp worse. There was none. In fact, at plaintiff’s deposition, we had secured testimony to the contrary, when the plaintiff herself testified that the ramp where she allegedly fell was totally covered in snow and did not look like it had been cleared.

The Court rendered a lengthy opinion in which it granted our Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that our client owed no duty to the plaintiff under the terms of its lease and that our client’s occasional gratuitous removal of snow and ice from the area of the fall did not impute a duty on our client to remove snow and ice from that area in perpetuity.