Natural vs. Unnatural Accumulation – Snow, Sleet, Ice, and Potential Injury

A natural accumulation is any natural environmental accumulation of rain, snow, sleet, or hail that accumulates without any actions by the property owner. An unnatural accumulation could occur when the accumulation of rain, snow, sleet, hail, or other environmental element was due to an action of the property owner. 

Property owners can be held responsible for a failure to promptly clear a natural environmental accumulation. Further, a property owner can be held responsible if the actions in clearing snow, sleet and/or ice creates a hazardous condition – an unnatural accumulation. 

Definitions of natural accumulation include:  

  • Untouched snow that has fallen. 
  • Undisturbed drifts of snow caused by wind or melting. 
  • Ice that results from snow melting and refreezing. 
  • Tracks in the snow caused by vehicle traffic. 

Situations that may cause unnatural accumulation, resulting in potential premises liability:  

  • Failure to remove snow and ice in a timely manner from the areas under the owner’s responsibility. 
  • Creating unnatural piles of snow in places where owners should know runoff may cause ice and/or snow accumulation. 
  • Property design conditions that could cause unnatural accumulations of snow and ice in high-traffic areas. 

Both ANSI (American National Standard Institute) and ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) have standards for snow and ice control for property, as well as requirements for snow and ice management services. Generally, commercial property owners should have snow removal contracts that fulfill the local jurisdiction’s requirements for snow removal both in terms of the depth of snow and the timeliness of removal of that snow. Additionally, owners should monitor the ground conditions after the initial removal efforts and based on ground conditions, respond as necessary with additional removal efforts. If you need help with a case involving natural or unnatural accumulation, submit a case review online.