Premises liability – landowner’s duty of care

December 30, 2007 | Erin Herbold


In Iowa, a landowner has a duty to use reasonable care to maintain reasonably safe conditions for invited guests and persons coming on the premises for business purposes.  But, does the landowner have to keep a look-out for dangerous conditions, or simply have notice of the dangerous condition and an opportunity to make the premises safe before being held liable?  In other words, just exactly what is the extent of the duty?  Does it include snow and ice removal?  That was the precise issue in this case.

After slipping and breaking her ankle on “black ice” in front of a YWCA, the plaintiff filed suit against the city on a negligent maintenance claim.  The plaintiff presented evidence that the rest of the sidewalk was clear, except for the area where the accident occurred.  The plaintiff argued that the city had knowledge of the icy spot and that a city employee responsible for clearing the snow and ice knew that the location was a slick spot because of its slope.

The trial court dismissed the case on the basis that there was no evidence that the YWCA had knowledge of the sidewalk’s icy condition.  But, the appellate court noted that Iowa courts have historically made a distinction between a landowner’s responsibility for injuries that occur indoors, as opposed to outdoors, and have typically allowed the issue of  liability for outdoor slip-and-fall cases to be decided by a jury.  As a result, the appellate court remanded the case to the trial court for a jury determination of the city’s liability. Welch v. YWCA of Clinton, Iowa, No. 7-699/06-2091, 2007 Iowa App. LEXIS 1186 (Ia. Ct. App., Nov. 15, 2007).