After an extended summer, the weather has finally turned frigid over the past couple of months in the Philadelphia area. With temperatures frequently dropping below freezing and with several snow storms and snow falls under our belt, the tri-state area is ripe for slips and falls on sidewalks, outdoor steps, parking lots, and other walking surfaces.
Preparing for slippery walking in winter weather is seldom something we make time for. In snow and icy conditions, we’re already short on time, and our biggest concern is usually driving safely to work and school. While we are careful to take precautions in our cars, once we arrive at our destination, getting from the car to the indoors is usually an afterthought.
Unfortunately, treacherous walking conditions cause thousands of serious injuries in the United States every year. Older people and those who are not in good physical condition are especially vulnerable. Broken wrists, back and spinal injuries, cuts and bruises, and even concussions are common injuries that can result from taking a spill on ice and snow.
Protecting Yourself in Icy Conditions
Avoiding slips and falls on the ice is partly a matter of simply slowing down. It may seem obvious to allow yourself some extra time when walking in potentially slippery conditions, but in practice, it’s easy to let the clock get the best of us and rush when we know we shouldn’t.
Be aware that black ice may be present even when a surface looks to be clear. You should never run on steps in freezing weather, even if the steps seem to be completely free of ice.
When you are parking your car, be aware of the landscape. Try to park as close as possible to handrails, walls, or anything that you may be able to use for support. Even if you don’t use a walking stick, it may be wise to store one in your car so that you will always have it when icy conditions arise. In addition to helping to steady yourself, a walking stick can also be used to test the ground in front of you for slipperiness.
Wearing shoes with spikes on the soles is also a wise precautionary measure. Spikes create friction with ice and snow to give you traction. There are several companies that make traction and cleats devices that can be used with your regular shoes, such as Grainger
, LL Bean
, and Amazon
If you do happen to fall, always try to fall on your bottom, and try to resist the instinctual urge to reach out and break your fall with your hands and wrists.
Property owners, whether commercial or residential, are responsible for clearing ice and snow from walking surfaces, but remember that pedestrians have a responsibility to act with common sense. If you are attempting to navigate slippery conditions in 4-inch heels, sliding around the ice for fun, or texting in the middle of a blizzard and you happen to fall and get injured, you may not get the settlement you’re hoping for. But assuming that you took reasonable precautions, it is very likely that you will have a solid case if you’ve injured yourself on snow and ice.
Slips and Falls on Hills and Ridges
It is incumbent on property owners to diligently clear ice and snow from pedestrian areas to help prevent injuries slips and falls.
In Pennsylvania, property owners are legally required to remove ice and snow from the walking surfaces on their properties within a reasonable amount of time of becoming aware that it is there. However, there are some contingencies that must be in place in order to establish a property owner’s liability involving slips and falls on ice and snow. The plaintiff must be able to prove all of the following:
1. A dangerous condition involving the accumulation of ice or snow is in fact present in the area where you fell;
2. The property owner was aware of, or should have been aware of, the dangerous conditions;
3. Your fall was caused by the dangerous accumulation of ice and snow.
The important part of this law, often known as the Hills and Ridges Doctrine, is that property owners cannot be reasonably expected to keep their properties and abutting sidewalks clear of slippery conditions at all times. Typical winter weather in Pennsylvania would make this a near impossibility. The accumulation of ice and snow into elevations that cause slip and fall accidents is the deciding factor —if the property owner allows ice and snow to accumulate unreasonably, he or she is at fault. The mere presence of icy conditions may not be enough to prove negligence.
It is important to note that the above exemption only applies to accidents that are caused by ice and snow due to weather events. For instance, ice that forms due to a leaky pipe that should have been fixed will not excuse the property owner from liability, even if the accumulation is only slight.
On a final note, if you fall and are injured on government property, there are varying local statutes and ordinances that may impact who is liable for your injury. An experienced personal injury lawyer will make sure that the guilty party is held accountable.
What To Do After a Slip and Fall Accident
Documenting the conditions that caused your fall is of paramount importance in a potential lawsuit. If you are unable to do so, make sure that someone takes photos from multiple angles of the scene of the accident as close to the time it happened as possible. Remember that weather conditions change rapidly, and the area may look very different the next day or even after just a few hours. As soon as you possibly can, write down your account of what happened, and ask any witnesses to do the same. Include in your account any precautions you took to avoid slipping and falling.
You have several avenues in pursuing damages against a negligent property owner. You will obviously be entitled to compensation for any medical bills you incur, but you may have experienced other losses in connection with your accident that entitle you to a further award. You may be able to collect lost wages if you miss work. Pain and suffering that have arisen in connection with the accident and even loss of ability to participate in hobbies, sports, or other leisure activities may also be grounds for compensation.
An experienced personal injury lawyer is your best ally in establishing the property owner’s liability and securing the highest possible award for your injuries. The personal injury lawyers at Donaghue & Labrum are highly experienced in litigating accidents from slips and falls. Call us as soon as you experience a slip and fall accident.