While winter is traditionally a time for family and celebration, dangerous roadways, icy paths and other hazards are emerging. Unfortunately, the drop in temperature will see a rise in claims for slips and falls on icy paths and untreated roads. So, what should you do if you fall and hurt yourself on an icy path and who is liable?
Hidden Dangers Of Snow And Ice
Even the most vigilant amongst us are often caught unawares by snow and black ice and untreated paths. Over the course of just a few hours a normally safe pathway can change into an ice rink. When you are walking on public paths it is the responsibility of the local authority to ensure they are as safe as possible. The situation is a little different if you slip and fall on private property because liability, if negligence is proven, will fall upon those responsible for the premises. This is covered by the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 which enshrines a legal duty of care to those visiting private property that also extends to walkways and entrance/ exit points.
What To Do In The Event Of An Injury
The first thing to remember if you slip and fall on ice as a consequence of dangerous pathways or roadways is that not all injuries will be immediately apparent. In the event of a fall your adrenaline often kicks in and it may be only hours later that you begin to feel the after effects of the accident. Therefore, the first thing to do in the event of a slip and fall on snow or ice in which you feel a degree of pain is to seek medical assistance. This not only allows you to receive treatment as soon as possible but will also allow a doctor to examine you and advise you of any potential consequences.
It is also good to have a record that you have sought medical advice in the event that you do pursue a personal injury claim through the courts.
Recording Details Of Your Accident
If you do encounter a slip or a fall on an icy path or roadway it is vital that you write a detailed record of where, when and how it occurred. As we touched on above, if “reasonable” time has elapsed for you to expect either the local authority or private landowner to clear the hazard then you are quite within your rights to pursue a compensation claim. If the area in question has received minimal attention in the past, perhaps it has been reported to the authorities or private landowner then you should include this information in your record of events. It is also advisable to take a photograph of the dangerous pavement or road to back up your claim, although this must be taken before the ice has melted or been cleared.
In the vast majority of accidents of this nature there will be witnesses who can prove to be extremely helpful in the court room. While they will be able to back-up your claim of a fall, in situations where icy paths have been neglected they may also be able to add additional evidence to your case.
Identifying Liability For A Slip And Fall On Ice Claim
There is a big difference between identifying liability and an accident which occurred even though reasonable actions were taken by the relevant party. The Highways Act 1980 stipulates that the highway authority, predominantly the local authority, has a duty of care to ensure that pavements and roads are as safe as possible. They have a duty to clear hazards and grit dangerous walkways as far as “reasonably practical”. The fact is that a fresh fall of snow or emergence of ice overnight may result in a slip or fall before the authorities could be reasonably expected to take action.
It is a perfectly reasonable response by a local authority, or private landowner, to claim that they did not have sufficient time to clear the hazard. If you approach a personal injury solicitor regarding compensation for an accident which occurred under these circumstances they will likely advise you not to pursue the action. However, the situation is very different if sufficient time has elapsed, perhaps earlier warnings have been ignored and there has been obvious negligence on the part of those responsible for the area.
Simple Guidelines For Clearing Snow And Ice
While it may seem a little overboard for the government to issue guidelines for clearing snow and ice from public pathways and highways, these simple steps do help. If nothing else, proving that the potentially negligent party had carried out such actions would strengthen their claim against compensation for a slip or fall. Official government guidelines include:
- Clearing ice and snow early in the day.
- Avoiding the use of hot water which can freeze and make a dangerous situation even worse.
- Use salt where possible to avoid refreezing overnight.
The advice regarding the use of hot water is one which many people may not have thought of because in extremely cold conditions the hot water will quickly cool leading to potentially greater danger.
Making A Slip And Fall On Snow Or Ice Claim
After taking into account the location of the slip and fall on ice injury, time, severity, and potential negligence, many people will find they have a strong case for a personal injury claim. Where some form of negligence can be proven beyond reasonable doubt it is likely that the local authority or private property owner in question would look to settle out of court. However, where there is any doubt about the validity of a claim there is every chance it will go to court.
If the accident occurred on public pathways and highways then it would be the local authorities called to defend their actions. As we touched on above, where the incident occurred within private property or on a pathway to the private property then it will be the owner/ manager of the premises who will be held to account. In years gone by local authorities simply settled all “reasonable” accident claims involving slips and falls on icy paths and dangerous highways out of court but abuse of the system has seen a tightening of settlement procedures. It is not simply a case of waving through every claim without further consideration even if the potential legal costs may far outweigh any compensation payment.
The level of compensation received as a consequence of a successful prosecution will be considered on a case-by-case basis. General damages are those which are awarded to cover pain and suffering, and lifestyle changes, while special damages will reimburse the claimant of any fees directly related to the incident such as medical, additional transport and loss of earnings. The special damages payment will also cover any expected fees in the future as a direct consequence of any injuries.
It is fair to say that not all slip and fall on ice accidents as a consequence of icy pathways and roads will result in a successful compensation claim. Potential defendants are not expected to act immediately once the first snowflake falls or frost begins but they should act within a “reasonable” time. While the vast majority of accidents occur on land managed by the local authority it is also possible to bring a slip and fall on ice claim against private property owners where negligence can be proved.