Have an Ice Slip?
By Adam Manning
The recent cold snap has prompted a flurry of calls to our offices. Seemingly unprepared for typical freezing wintry conditions, restaurants, pubs, offices, factories and so forth have forgotten all about taking simple precautions to reduce the build up of ice and snow. This has sadly lead to a number of enquiries from injured people who have slipped and tripped when there was no need for them to be exposed to the risk of a sprained ankle, broken wrist or worse with a little forethought.
Freezing conditions can be dangerous for mountain climbers or those trekking across a bleak landscape but they can also pose just as serious risk to those in the middle of our cities and towns. Ice as a substance has a very low level of friction and when this is coupled with it’s often almost glass like transparency it can be very hazardous.
Even when prepared for it, ice can be dangerous to the normal pedestrian but when it is difficult to see it can sometimes only be when someone has fallen that they are aware that it is there. People can sadly suffer very nasty injuries from a fall, including broken ankles and knees. Often when people fall, they put their hands out to save themselves and in doing so end up with a fractured wrist bone called a scaphoid. Falls caused by ice can be quick and violent and so the injuries involved may often be very serious.
The owners of pubs, supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas or other places where people are invited to enter have a duty to keep their guests and customers safe. This is set out in the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 although the duty listed in that statute is rather vague. It speaks of the occupier of the premises (which is not necessarily the same as the owner) having a duty to take such care as in all the circumstances is reasonable to ensure that visitors are reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which they are invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.
Of course the argument becomes; what does reasonable mean? In the context of people falling due to ice and snow, this can be less difficult argument than it might seem. The owners of restaurants or pubs etc. are clearly inviting their guests into their premises to enjoy their facilities and buy a drink or a meal. They therefore owe a duty to their guests under this statute. Their property includes of course exterior areas such as car parks, walk ways and pavements which people have to cross to enter, for example, the pub or café. It is of course right that the duty extends to their customers walking across a car park or other exterior area to enjoy the use of their facilities.
As mentioned the duty is to keep their guests or customers reasonably safe and so the duty with regard to build ups of ice and snow is to take measures to reduce these hazards. The most obvious way to do this includes shovelling snow or gritting ice. A failure to take these sorts of common sense measures could expose their visitors to dangers due to ice and a possible claim for compensation if an injury is caused. The law does not expect owners of premises to ensure that every square inch of their land is free of ice and snow 24 hours a day but it does expect them to take reasonable measures to ensure visitors are safe.
The duty on employers to keep their employees safe is even higher than these examples. This of course includes pavements, foot paths and car parks situated on an employer’s premises. It can also include such things as playgrounds at a school, which would form part of a teacher’s workplace.
The employer has a high duty to keep employees safe and this includes reducing the risk of them slipping or tripping on their premises. The regulation relating to workplaces provides specific requirements that routes around the premises must be maintained so they do not represent a hazard to employees and this includes the removal of ice and snow.
Of course a lot of these sorts of accidents involve people slipping on ice on the pavement. The relevant law in this area is the Highways Act 1980 and this was recently amended by Parliament to impose a duty on highway authorities to take measures to reduce ice and snow on the highway (which includes the pavement). The most common measure used to do this is of course gritting and this applies to roads, cycle-ways and pavements.
Personal injury lawyers can act for those injured in this way in pursuing a claim for compensation and these can be dealt with on a “no win no fee” basis, often referred to as a conditional fee agreement. They can act to recover compensation not only for the injuries themselves but also for time off work and loss of earnings. To many people, an injury as severe as this can have serious implications such as not being able to pay for the rent or the mortgage. Compensation can also include payments for physiotherapy or other treatment to assist with a recovery and also surgery if required.