By William Bill Hurst
While on sidewalks or entering and exiting your car or truck in parking lots or entering a building after a snow storm you must be aware of the dangers of snow and ice. This time of year slip and fall accidents injure and claim the lives of thousands, often causing devastating injuries. As a matter of fact falls of all kinds account for 300,000 injuries and 20,000 deaths a year. Slips, trips and falls are the second most common cause of accidental injuries after automobile crashes. Even when surfaces do not look especially icy or slippery, it is very possible that a thin sheet of transparent ice is covering your pathway putting you at serious risk. When you approach a sidewalk or roadway that appears to be covered with ice or snow, always use extreme caution.
The following checklist can help you avoid the possibility of an injury from a slip on ice/snow that could lead to an medical costs, pain, disability and even death.
1. When walking use sidewalks whenever possible. If there is no sidewalk and the street is clear, and you have no other choice, walk against the flow of traffic and stay as close to the curb as possible. Avoid walking in the streets if possible. The vehicular traffic in the area can slip and go out of control also. If you can’t avoid the street, wear bright or reflective clothing.
2. Wear clothing that does not restrict your vision. Don’t impair your vision with hoodies, ski masks, scarves, hats, etc. This type of clothing could prevent you from spotting slippery conditions or prevent you from seeing a car that is spinning out of control.
3. When crossing the street use extra caution and always cross at crosswalks. Be vigilant about the traffic around you.
4. Ice can easily hide under the snow so just because you don’t see the ice doesn’t mean it’s not there. “Black” or “clear” ice is often difficult to see and results from thawing and refreezing. Watch the freeze/thaw cycles which causes this invisible ice.
5. When walking on unfamiliar sidewalks or roads be vigilant, as you may not have knowledge of where potential danger exists.
6. If you can’t avoid walking on the ice and snow, bend your knees slightly and take slower, shorter steps to help reduce the chance of a fall.
7. If forced to use the steps at someone’s home, walk slow and take shorter steps when descending. The same is true of unlevel and hilly terrain; these areas are very dangerous when covered with ice or snow. Steps especially can be hard to clear and build up ice easily. So slow down and shorten your stride.
8. Be aware of overhead hazards! Falling icicles and chunks of ice kill innocent people each year. Icicles can build up in size very quickly. Their size and dagger-like formation are extremely dangerous for pedestrians. so be aware of what’s happening above you, and stay clear from the edges of buildings. Property owners should post warnings in public places.
9. Even if your hands are cold, don’t put them in your pockets when you are walking on snow covered surfaces. If you slip, you will need your arms to restore balance or to break your fall so you can land safely.
10. Wear the proper footwear. Although it may not be glamorous to wear a pair of boots, it will give you traction, not to mention keep your feet warm. If you want to wear heels or other kinds of shoes, simply carry an extra pair with you to change in to.
11. If you are walking on a particularly slick area of snow or ice, explore the area with your foot to see how slippery it is before you put your full weight on the area.
12. Don’t carry large loads while walking on snow or ice – you need your balance and arms (hands free) to protect yourself and your face. If you carry a load on an icy walk and feel yourself falling, toss your load so that you can break your fall with your arms.
13. Take small careful steps instead of large ones. When getting out of a vehicle, step, don’t jump. Parking lot slips and injury are very common. When possible, use handrails, handles – anything that will help you keep your balance.
14. Help your elderly friends and relatives on snow and ice. Slips and falls can be extremely dangerous for seniors. If you are older, ask others for assistance.
Remember that prevention is the best way to stop slips and falls during the winter in icy conditions. Be sure to shovel driveways, walkways, and sidewalks. Salt high traffic areas if you think ice may form. If there are especially icy spots, place a sign to warn others of the hazard. www.cdc.gov/Niosh/docs/2011-123/pdfs/2011-123.pdf
When you make a claim for your injuries after a fall you will be faced with the insurance adjustor and/or attorney claiming you were at fault; e.g., slip and fall accidents are often associated with negative connotations: you were clumsy; you are trying to take advantage of the property owner; you are making something out of nothing. Despite this defense slip and fall accidents can be physically and financially devastating, and you deserve compensation for any serious injury caused by someone else’s negligence. If you aren’t sure who is at fault for injuries, a lawyer will be able to help you answer that question. Your chances of winning your case improve the sooner you act, the fall can be investigated while the evidence is “fresh”. You have a better chance of taking photos of the scene as it was on the day of your fall.
Your slip and fall lawyer will examine all of the evidence before you make a claim and advise you. If the case ends up in a trial, the jury views liability for a fall more harshly than other accidents. This is because in every falldown case the injured party participates in the event; i.e., put their foot where they should not have. However, in the light of the law, a property should be safe for visitors no matter who they are or what they are doing at the time of their fall. It is easy to criticize the victim by weren’t “paying attention”, but you should also ask yourself,“Would I have fallen if there had been a “warning” or care had been taken to remove hazard?
What happens if you slip and fall on ice at a friend’s house? Chances are your friend has homeowners insurance to protect for injuries on his or her property. Likewise, if your friend rents, there may be renters insurance. In general before you can sue and recover you have to prove who is liable for the accident, but the homeowners insurance policy may also provide medical benefits which will not require proof of fault for payment up to a specified limit.
For your premises you have to use common sense to protect against slippery hazards which could cause a person to slip and sue you. Simply be vigilant of dangerous conditions in and around your property. Be especially careful of water, snow, and ice, which are three main causes of fall injuries. If you learn of an unsafe condition, repair it immediately – if it can be proven that you knew about a hazardous condition that you did not fix, you will be found liable if someone falls. In general, if you care for your visitors’ safety, you will not find yourself in a lawsuit.