Slip and fall accidents that occur as a result of untreated snow and ice accumulation on parking lots, walkways, stairs, and porches can lead to injuries that last long after the last snowflake has melted. More than one million people undergo emergency treatment each year due to slips and falls, making them the number one cause of injuries at businesses and workplaces nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
While many people blame weather-related slips and falls that occur in snowy, icy conditions on an act of nature, the reality is that these types of accidents can be avoided, making the word accident somewhat of a misnomer. Property owners are responsible for maintaining safe conditions on exterior walking surfaces to protect employees, customers, and guests.
If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident that was caused by snow and ice accumulation at a business or private property, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, any resulting medical bills, and other related expenses. The aggressive and determined attorneys at Berry Law can help determine whether your injuries were the result of a property owner’s negligence and assess the value of your claim. They can also suggest appropriate compensation based on the other party’s liability.
What Role Do Snow and Ice Play in Slip and Fall Accidents?
Snow and ice can accumulate quickly on any exterior surface in winter, including parking lots, sidewalks, and steps and ramps, making walking treacherous. Wet and icy surfaces put guests at risk for slips and falls. Sometimes, wintertime slips and falls are caused by footwear that is improper for the conditions, such as shoes that lack proper traction or disrupt the ability to stay balanced. More often, they occur because there is not enough friction between the walking surface and a person’s feet.
Without friction to gain the necessary traction, an individual is more likely to lose his or her balance, leading to a fall. These types of falls are most common in people over the age of 55.
Premises Liability in Slips and Falls on Snow and Ice
Slips and falls on icy walkways are generally considered premises liability cases in personal injury law. While snow and ice accumulation is a natural occurrence during winter, property owners are responsible for ensuring their premises are free from preventable hazards that could potentially injure someone. In legal terms, this concept is known as the duty of care. A property owner breaches the duty of care when they are aware of a hazardous condition yet fail to take reasonable measures to protect visitors from that danger. For a viable premises liability case, your lawyer must demonstrate that the property owner was negligent by failing to take reasonable action to prevent the accident that led to your injury.
How Can a Slip and Fall Accident be Prevented?
It’s important to clear snow and ice as quickly as possible after a storm passes. Adding sand or salting surfaces that are likely to become slick can help prevent slips and make clean-up easier when put down before a storm. However, after the snow and ice are removed, remnants of sand or salt can also make for slippery conditions and should be swept away once they are no longer useful for providing traction.
Installing proper lighting is important year-round, but particularly so in the winter when the days are longer, and winter weather accumulation contributes to slips and falls. Good lighting allows guests to see potential hazards and avoid them. Install walkway lighting and replace any burnt-out bulbs.
Check stairways and entryway ramps for the presence of safety railings and grab bars that can be used to prevent slips on icy walkways during the winter. Repair any railings that are loose or broken immediately.
While it may appear that snow and ice have melted when it warms up during daylight hours, watch for the effects of thawing and refreezing overnight, which can make walkways slick again early in the day at the opening of business. Keeping sidewalks, steps, porches, and parking lots clear will prevent thaw and refreeze accidents.
Snow and ice can also lead to slip and fall hazards once inside a building. Interior entryways are prone to standing puddles of water that come from melting snow and slush. Runner rugs at doorways absorb liquid from wet shoes and boots and prevent water from accumulating on hard surface flooring. They should be used as a preventative measure all winter long. Just be sure that rugs and mats lie flat on the floor, free from wrinkling or bunching, to prevent guests from tripping over them.
Natural and Unnatural Accumulation of Snow and Ice
Depending on your jurisdiction, your state’s laws regarding natural and unnatural accumulation of snow and ice may have a bearing on personal injury claims. In these contexts, the natural accumulation of snow and ice results from weather conditions, such as rain, snowfall, and freezing temperatures. Conversely, unnatural accumulation results from a property owner’s actions. Some examples of this include a pool of ice caused by a leaking gutter, faulty drainage system, or man-made changes to the landscape that cause water to collect and freeze in certain areas. A personal injury lawyer who is well-versed in these matters and the legal complexities pertaining to your case will be able to determine if this distinction is relevant to your accident and subsequently know how to use this information to strengthen your claim.
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What Are the Damages Caused by Slip and Fall Accidents in Winter Weather?
Injuries from slip and fall cases can range from minor to very serious and can cause physical debilitation and emotional and financial strain. Sprains, bruises, bumps, scratches, and cuts may heal relatively quickly, but fractures and head trauma can cause long-lasting pain and debilitating side effects.
Skeletal fractures are a common type of injury in snow and ice-related slips. Twenty-five percent of fractures from slip accidents require surgery to repair broken bones in the hips, arms, and back.
Injury to the central nervous system, including the spinal cord, and traumatic brain injuries are often life-changing and can result in permanent disability or even death. It’s estimated that slips cause 700 fatalities annually and are the third-leading cause of unintentional death in the United States.
Adding up the cost of emergency room visits, medical tests, hospital admissions, and rehabilitation services, slip and fall accidents can lead to overwhelming medical debt, disabling pain, and days missed from work, costing Americans more than $34 billion each year and leading some households into bankruptcy.
What Responsibility Do Property Owners Have in Slip and Fall Accidents?
The law says that invited guests to a private or commercial property have the right to expect the property to be reasonably safe. Businesses extend an implied invitation to customers when they open their doors to do business. Guests of private residences are also given protection under the law, which is why all property owners, commercial or private, should carry liability insurance.
Failing to maintain weather-related hazards can leave a property owner open to a lawsuit if an accident does occur since he or she can be held financially responsible for injuries to customers, guests, and employees. Failure to maintain such safety standards to the point that they cause someone injury is called premises liability.
Under premises liability, a property owner may be found negligent if he or she didn’t take reasonable steps to address weather-related slipping hazards prior to inviting other people onto the property. However, guests on the property are also responsible for safely navigating any hazards that they are able to observe.
Although a property owner is typically named the responsible party in a premises liability claim or lawsuit if snow and ice removal was contracted out to another individual, that person could be liable for failing to maintain surfaces properly, and you may hold them financially responsible for your injuries.
How Can I Recover Damages From a Slip and Fall Accident?
While liability insurance usually covers at least part of the damages incurred by a slip and fall accident, it’s not uncommon for insurance companies to challenge the validity or amount of a claim. They may refuse to cover all of the expenses and may even argue that the claimant is partially responsible for his or her injuries or that the steps taken by the property owner were sufficient to prevent a slip.
An insurance company may also try to claim that the slip did not cause an injury and fall at all but instead was a pre-existing condition that predated the accident and is unrelated to the claim.
In order to receive full compensation for damages after a slip and fall accident, you should consider hiring an Omaha premises liability attorney and filing a personal injury lawsuit. Nebraska law requires a potential plaintiff to file a premises liability suit within the statute of limitations, which is four years from the date the injury occurred.
The plaintiff must prove that he or she was an invited guest to the property in question. Additionally, he or she must show the following:
- The property owner had a duty of care to the plaintiff.
- He or she breached that duty of care through their negligence.
- That negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
- The injuries resulted in damages to the plaintiff.
Most personal injury suits settle out of court, but sometimes they go to trial, where a jury is charged with the task of deciding whether the steps taken by the property owner were sufficient to protect guests, employees, and customers from injuries due to snow and ice.
What Steps Should I Take if I’ve Been Injured in a Weather-Related Slip or Fall?
After a weather-related slip and fall, you should take pictures, seek medical attention, document the medical intervention, and contact an attorney.
Take Photos of the Accident Scene
Since snow and ice will quickly disappear, documenting the evidence of their presence is helpful if you are able. Pictures can help build a case to present to the insurance company and also in the event that a lawsuit becomes necessary.
Seek Medical Attention
Even if you feel fine right after your slip and fall, you should see a doctor immediately to be checked over. Injuries to the bones or back can take days or weeks to present themselves in some cases.
Document Medical Intervention
Keep records of any injuries you have and medical treatments you undergo. Detailed records can demonstrate an absence of any pre-existing conditions and prove that injuries were a direct result of the slip and fall.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
While only time can restore your good health, a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney can help you receive the compensation you deserve, ease your financial worries, and allow you and your family to focus on your recovery. Call today to get started.