Iowa Supreme Court Holds Continuing Storm Doctrine Applies Only to “Meaningful, Ongoing Accumulation of Snow or Ice,” and Remains a Valid Defense in Iowa When the Standard is Met

In Gries v. Ames Ecumenial Housing, Inc., issued June 5, 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court held the long-standing continuing storm doctrine or storm in progress doctrine remains good law in Iowa, reaffirming an exception to a land possessor’s ordinary duty to exercise reasonable care. As summarized within the opinion, the continuing storm doctrine provides that a “business establishment, landlord, carrier, or other inviter, in the absence of unusual circumstances, is permitted to await the end of the storm and a reasonable time thereafter to remove ice and snow from an outdoor entrance walk, platform, or steps.” Id. at 4-5. (Citing Reuter v. Iowa Trust & Savings Bank, 57 N.W.2d 225 (1953).) The basis for this doctrine “is that changing conditions due to the pending storm render it inexpedient and impracticable to take earlier effective action, and that ordinary care does not require it.” Id. The court identified “significant policy reasons,” such as recognition that a land possessor is not responsible for all accidents occurring on its property, allowing business to remain open during storms, and reduction of the number of weather-related injuries, justified relieving a land owner of liability that may otherwise arise during a snow or ice storm. Id. at 7-8.

Notwithstanding it’s denial of a request to abandon the continuing storm doctrine, the Iowa Supreme Court held only a “meaningful, ongoing accumulation of snow or ice” satisfies the standard of a storm under the continuing storm doctrine” and “mere precipitation” is insufficient to relieve a land possessor of its duty of ordinary care. Id. at 13. When a factual dispute exists regarding whether this standard was met and the record fails to establish an ongoing accumulation of snow or ice as a matter of law, the jury must act as the fact-finder to determine whether the continuing storm doctrine applies.

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