If, like me, the first snow of winter has made you late for work, you may be bracing yourself for months of miserable weather conditions. Unfortunately, snow and ice cause an increased number of accidents on the road and slips/trips on the pathways.
Whilst a lot of the time these incidents may not result in serious harm (other than a bruised ego or a dented bumper), some can cause serious injuries. I have previously looked at how to avoid icy accidents on in the car. But is there a claim if you have injured yourself after a slip in the snow? How a claim is handled depends on where you fell and in what circumstances, but the court applies largely similar rules:
On a public path / highway
A local highway authority has a duty “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice”.
The important words to note are reasonably practicable; it is not an absolute duty. There will always be a risk that poor weather will create a hazard, and it is not possible to eliminate all risk.
If you take a slip in the snow on a public path and make a personal injury claim, the Court will look at a variety of factors when making a decision as to whether the local authority is at fault. This will include whether the area has been cleared and/or gritted, the location and the time since the poor weather started. They will also consider whether you have exposed yourself unnecessarily to that risk; e.g. wearing slippers on an icy pavement, running or acting in a way that increased the chances of you having an accident.
On private land
This doesn’t only cover someone’s home, but also includes shops, leisure centres, private car parks etc. Owners/occupiers of such properties are under a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that visitors will be safe when they are on the premises.
Therefore, if you slip in the snow in a supermarket car park, the shop may have a defence to any claim if it can show that it took reasonable steps to ensure that visitors are reasonably safe. They have to do something, but they can’t be expected to cover everything. Again, if you have been sliding on frozen puddles in your socks, the court is unlikely to be sympathetic!
In the workplace
An employer is under a duty to ensure that floors and traffic routes are free from obstruction or anything which may cause an employee to slip, trip or fall. This duty extends to the outdoor areas of their workplace, e.g. car parks, smoking areas, loading bays etc. and is much more relevant when it gets cold. Once more, the extent of this responsibility is not absolute – and if you are playing ice hockey with office equipment, your broken ankle claim is unlikely to get far!
Essentially, the owner of the land will have a degree of responsibility to keep areas clear from snow and ice. Therefore, if the area is not clear and as long as your injury is not as a result of your attempts to speed skate down the Headrow, you may have a personal injury claim.