• May 2, 2014

Jim Behrenbrinker (previously profiled here) barely survived a motion for summary judgment in an icy slip’n’fall case on appeal in a split decision of a panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. (I am guessing Behrenbrinker’s of Dutch origin and the Dutch have a long history of ice appreciation.)

After the jump you will find an earlier Minnesota Litigator post about this ancient icy doctrine of the “mere slipperiness rule.” Behrenbrinker skated past the barrier, for now, arguing that defendant Edina failed to establish that the Edina Community Center is not a “for profit” entity (which is a carve-out for “merely slippery” immunity.)

Original Post (January 19, 2010):(under the subject line, Slips Happen… (Minnesota’s “Mere-Slipperiness Rule”):  The Minnesota Supreme Court established the mere-slipperiness rule over a century ago, holding that a city’s common-law duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the safety of public roads and sidewalks does not require it to keep sidewalks clear of ice. A plaintiff does not establish a cause of action if “nothing but the slipperiness” causes the accident. Rather, there must be “such accumulation of ice as to constitute an obstruction to travel,” or “ridges or irregularities of such height, or lying at such inclination or angle, as would be likely to trip passengers, or cause them to fall.” The Supreme Court reasoned that it is a “physical impossibility” in Minnesota’s climate to keep sidewalks clear of ice, and that the expense of attempting to do so “would bankrupt any city.”

The slip-and-fall plaintiff argued that the “mere-slipperiness” rule applies to municipalities, not state actors. Today the Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected this argument and applied the rule to a state actor, the DNR.

The slip-and-fall plaintiff also made a nuanced argument about ice-types: arguing that the mere-slipperiness rule only applied to “newly formed glare ice,” which the Court of Appeals also rejected. Municipalities are off the hook for “rough ice,” as well, the Court pointed out. “Ridges, hummocks, depressions or other irregularities…” that’s a different story but apparently none were present here.

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