In February 2001, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, decided for the first time in Budzko v. One City Center Associates Limited Partnership, what duty of care a business landowner owes to business invitees regarding the accumulation of ice and snow during a storm. Terry Budzko slipped and fell as she was exiting One City Center, the building in which her employer leased office space. The steps had not been shoveled or sanded and a snowstorm had been progressing throughout the day. The Law Court, placing heavy reliance on the factor of foreseeability, held that “[b]usiness owners have a duty to reasonably respond to foreseeable dangers and keep premises reasonably safe when significant numbers of invitees may be anticipated to enter or leave the premises during a winter storm.” Without saying what measures would have satisfied this duty, the Law Court held that One City Center's failure to treat the steps with salt or sand, shovel any of the accumulation, or warn any of the invitees of the condition of the premises did not satisfy the duty placed on a business owner during a storm. The Law Court's decision joins a small number of jurisdictions that impose a duty on business owners to clear ice and snow accumulation during a storm. The majority of jurisdictions have adopted the “storm in progress” doctrine, which provides that a business owner “is afforded a reasonable time after the cessation of the storm or temperature fluctuations ... to correct the situation.” The jurisdictions that adopt this doctrine do so on the premise that requiring a business owner to clear precipitation as it is falling is unreasonable, inexpedient, impractical, and has the potential of erroneously turning the business owner into an insurer of invitee safety. This Note focuses on the disparity between the duty imposed on business owners in Maine and the duty placed on business owners in the jurisdictions that adopt the “storm in progress” doctrine. The question is: In declining to adopt the “storm in progress” doctrine, has the Law Court adopted a rule that forces business owners to insure the safety of their invitees during a winter storm? It is clear from the Budzko opinion that the Law Court based its decision in part on the number of invitees that traversed the steps of One City Center on February 27, 1995. Several other jurisdictions have held that it is improper to place an enhanced duty on a business owner solely because of his or her status as a business owner--duties are determined based on the status of the plaintiff, whether trespasser, licensee, or invitee. Therefore, two other questions are raised: (1) did the Law Court impermissibly base One City Center's duty on its status as a large business owner; and (2) what ramifications result from the Budzko decision?
Jennifer A. Williams,
Budzko v. One City Center Associates Limited Partnership: Maine's Unique Approach to Business Owners' Duty to Remove Ice and Snow,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol55/iss2/9