posted on January 15, 2016
The idea that winter’s snow and ice increases the potential for slip-and fall accidents may not be news to you, but we frequently hear from people who are surprised to learn about their responsibility for winter slip-and-fall hazards.
Businesses, public organizations and private homeowners all have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of their properties for those who may visit. This means they must remove hazards in a reasonable amount of time or adequately warn visitors of their existence.
In many Virginia cities and towns, local ordinances spell out property owners’ responsibilities for removing snow from sidewalks adjacent to their property. Richmond City Code, for example, says snow must be removed “from the paved sidewalk” abutting the property within six hours after a snowfall ends. If snow stops falling during the night, snow must be removed from the sidewalk before 11 a.m. the following day.
But sidewalks aren’t the only place someone may be injured in a slip and-fall incident and expose you to potential liability.
Here are the Top 10 winter slip-and-fall hazards other than sidewalks:
The Zurich Insurance Group says 35 percent of slip-and-fall accidents occur in garages and parking lots. In many cases “black ice,” see-through accumulations that are hard to see, is to blame.
Inclines present some measure of slip-and-fall hazard in any weather, but are obviously more dangerous in icy conditions.
Any hard surface around a building is susceptible to a buildup of snow and, more importantly, ice. This includes driveways, patios, courtyards and alleys. If they are on your property, they are your responsibility.
Snow that is tracked in by one guest quickly melts and causes a slip-and-fall hazard for visitors who follow. Property owners are granted a “reasonable” amount of time to clean up such temporary hazards, but are advised to avoid getting to a point where a jury decides what’s reasonable.
Slip-and-fall accidents are one of the leading causes of worker injuries, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Winter ice and snow increase the accident risk for industries that require work outdoors, such as construction work.
Zurich says loading docks are typically forgotten in business’s ice and snow remediation routines, and are the source of few claims. Still, in addition to not wanting to see anyone hurt, business owners should keep in mind that injured workers mean lost productivity as well as rising costs due to workers’ compensation claims or third-party lawsuits filed by injured deliverymen.
Pot holes in parking lots, curbs (including parking curbs or tire stops), speed bumps, irrigation trenches, etc., can all be obscured by snowfall or drifts and become fall hazards. Know where these obstacles are on your property and be prepared to clear or flag them after snowfalls.
Days are shorter and darkness comes sooner during the winter, resulting in more people doing daily activities after dark. Poor lighting obscures obstacles that can cause a person to trip- or slip-and-fall and is a greater hazard in winter, particularly if lights are on timers that are not set properly.
In addition to wetness that can be tracked or blown into an elevator and freeze, elevators exposed to the outdoors in winter can malfunction if water on trolleys or car frames freezes and damages cables. A damaged elevator that does not stop evenly with the floor is a tripping hazard.
Just as snow can obscure curbs and potholes, if tools and equipment are left behind after such tasks as clearing ice and snow, spreading salt or sand, or mopping up in lobbies, they create a new fall hazard. Workers also need to be mindful of where power cords run if they use wet vacuums, buffers, etc., to clean wet lobbies, garages, etc.
Lee J. Bujakowski is a Tulane University School of Law graduate who joined Marks & Harrison in 2013. Lee works in our Hopewell office and focuses on protecting the rights of injury victims and their families. He is licensed to practice in Virginia’s state courts as well as the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia. In addition to his law practice, Lee is highly active in the community, including serving as counsel for the Hopewell Recreation and Parks Foundation and Hopewell Manufacturers Association. He is also a member of the Hopewell Jaycees.