Injuries Due to Falls on Ice and Snow
Maine’s blustery winters bring a coating of ice and snow across much of state. For many of us, just getting down our driveways becomes a challenge, often leading to numerous slips and trips. While we often think of falls from snow and ice as minor incidences, thousands of individuals are seriously injured due to slippery road and sidewalk conditions each year.
Across the state, emergency workers are reporting high numbers of slip and fall related accidents due to ice and snow. Accumulated ice and snow is considered a dangerous condition, and property owners can be liable for injuries sustained due to ice and snow. Under premises liability law, property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe and free of hazards. This includes keeping sidewalks, walkways, driveways, and parking lots clear of ice and snow.
There are three central groups of property owners that can be liable for falls attributable to ice and snow. They are:
- Residential property owners—owners of homes, duplexes, town homes, and non-commercial, non-government properties are responsible for maintaining their property that may be used by others.
- Commercial property owners—owners of apartment complexes, hotels, retail stores, and other non-residential, non-government properties must maintain safe condition of all areas open to the public.
- Government properties—federal buildings, courthouses, post office buildings, motor vehicle departments, and the like are controlled by government entities who have the same responsibility of care as private owners.
After any slip and fall caused by ice or snow, the first consideration is whether the fall was a mere accident, or can be attributed to the negligence of the property owner. The question becomes one of reasonableness. Owners of stores and offices should are expected to clear their storefronts, entrances, and exits from the building before they become open to the public. Additionally, parking lots should be free of ice and snow if the owner intends them to be used.
The reasonableness test will usually dictate the property owner do a thorough job of clearing the snow or ice. Consistency is key, as icy patches left in an otherwise clear lot or sidewalk can set a trap for unsuspecting pedestrians. Further, if black ice exists, reasonableness may require the property owner apply salt or some other substance to melt the dangerous ice.
A common condition that results in hazards for pedestrians is black ice caused by refreezing of surface water when temperatures hover around freezing. During the day when temperatures rise above freezing, snow melts and pools on the surface of sidewalks, walkways, driveways, and parking lots. When the temperature cools in the afternoon and evening, the water re-freezes creating a sheet of ice that is often very difficult, if not impossible to see. Darkness or a thin layer of snow only makes it more difficult to see the ice. Because this condition is so common, property owners should always apply salt liberally in areas where water may pool and refreeze so that this common problem does not occur. If they fail to do so and someone is injured, they will be responsible for payment of the injured party’s medical expenses and other damages.
At Peter Thompson & Associates, we pride ourselves on providing the highest quality of legal services to every client that walks through our door. The attorneys at Peter Thompson & Associates have decades of experience handling cases involving injuries due to falls on ice and/or snow and will guide you towards successful resolution of your case. We offer three convenient office meeting locations throughout the State. Our main offices are located in Portland, Falmouth, and Bangor. Call us today at 1 800.804.2004 to schedule an initial consultation.