Negligent property owners can be held liable if you were injured by a slip and fall on ice or snow. Learn how to get the compensation you deserve.
Winter weather brings cold, snow, and ice to most of the United States. Where there’s ice and snow, there’s a risk of injuries from falls.
Falls are one of the most common causes of injuries, with more than 80,000 people hospitalized with severe injuries like head trauma or a broken hip.
Senior citizens are at high risk for life-threatening injuries from slips and falls. ¹
Businesses and homeowners must keep their properties as safe as they reasonably can. When a fall on snowy or icy sidewalks leads to severe injuries, you expect compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress.
Serious injuries can also result from slipping and falling on ice, slush, and snow tracked into buildings creating wet and slick floors. Building owners should have appropriate mats and wet floor signs positioned at entrances to prevent falls.
Who Pays for Injuries from Slipping on Ice?
Property owners have a legal duty of care (obligation) to keep their premises safe and hazard-free. This duty includes keeping walkways, driveways, parking lots, and other common areas clear of ice and snow.
Injuries from slipping on ice and snow can be quite serious, sometimes life-threatening. Serious fall injuries can include a broken wrist, broken hip, knee damage, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries.
Accumulated ice or snow is a dangerous condition. When owners allow dangerous conditions to exist on their property, they may be liable, meaning responsible, if the condition leads to harm.
The most common types of property owners are:
- Commercial establishments like retail stores, hotels, apartment complexes, and other non-government businesses
- Residential properties include privately owned homes, condominiums, duplexes, and townhomes
- Governmental properties are run by federal, state or local governments and include post office buildings, motor vehicle departments, tax offices and courthouses
A property owners’ legal duty of care extends to two specific categories of pedestrians. They are invitees and licensees.
Invitees are people who give the property owner a material benefit. For example, shoppers in a supermarket, guests at hotels, mail delivery personnel, and others who are not primarily social guests are invitees.
Licensees are people who are visiting the property for social reasons. For example, neighbors, children, party guests, and friends who are social guests are licensees.
Individuals who have no legitimate reason to be ion the property, like burglars or trespassers, usually can’t ask for compensation if they’re injured while up to no good.
How to Prove Your Personal Injury Claim
Generally, to prove a property owner is liable for your injuries after a slip and fall on ice or snow, you must show:
- The property owner was aware or should have been aware of the icy or snowy condition.
- A reasonable person would know the presence of snow or ice could result in injuries.
- The property owner neglected to take reasonable steps to remove or treat the snow or ice.
- The property owner’s negligence was the direct cause of your injuries.
- Your injuries are verifiable.
- You didn’t contribute to the circumstances that caused your injuries.
The problem is, there are no hard and fast rules about how much ice or snow there must be to determine a property owner’s negligence. The same applies to how much time a property owner has to remove the ice or snow before becoming liable.
Slipped on ice in your employer’s parking lot? Find out when Off-the-clock Work Injuries Qualify for Worker’s Compensation. You won’t have to prove negligence to get paid.
For instance, imagine a winter storm came through during the night, and ice accumulated on sidewalks and parking lots.
Early the next morning a pedestrian slipped on the ice and was injured. Is a homeowner liable? Would a business owner be liable? What about the government? Are they all liable?
The answer is, “It depends.” Different slip and fall accidents have different circumstances. Ice can form in a matter of hours and melt just as quickly, or it can build up and become a lurking danger.
In most cases, it comes down to what is “reasonable.”
When the icy sidewalk is in front of a private home, it’s reasonable to expect the homeowner to clear the walk sometime during daylight hours.
If the icy walk was in front of a business that opens early, it’s reasonable to make sure the walk is safe before the store opens.
Example: Snowy walk at private home
It snowed overnight. At 7:00 in the morning, Mike was determined to get all the newspapers on his route delivered before school. Despite the snow, he was using his bike to make his rounds.
As Mike rode his bike up the walk to a customer’s home, he slipped and fell on an icy patch, breaking his collarbone as he fell hard on his shoulder.
In this case, the homeowner probably isn’t legally liable for Mike’s injuries. The homeowner may not even have been aware that it snowed overnight.
Further, the homeowner wasn’t negligent because it’s reasonable for most homeowners to wait until daylight to remove fresh snow. In most towns, the rules about snow removal only require residential walks to be cleared during daylight hours.
The same winter storm, but with a different set of circumstances can provide excellent grounds for a personal injury claim or lawsuit.
Example: Customer injured by an icy walk
Barb’s Bagel Shop opens every morning at 7:00 a.m. Located near the train station, Barb always had a morning rush of commuters who came in to grab a bagel and coffee before boarding the 7:30 train into the city.
The morning after the same winter storm, a regular customer named Carol came by at 7:00 a.m. to get her usual coffee and bagel. As Carol walked to the front door, she slipped on the icy sidewalk in front of the bagel shop, breaking her hip as she slammed to the frozen pavement.
Barb was negligent for not treating her sidewalks before the Bagel Shop opened for business at 7:00 a.m. She knew or should have known that she’d have lots of foot traffic first thing in the morning, and a reasonable person would know that icy walks could cause a customer to fall and get hurt.
Carol has a right to expect compensation for her injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Government offices that open after a winter weather event have the same duty as other businesses to ensure their walkways, parking lots, and entrances are safe for pedestrians.
If the same snowfall fell on a parking lot at the post office, injured pedestrians would have good reason to seek compensation from the government.
Slip and fall claims against government agencies like the post office, are different than filing a claim against a private business owner. Your claim will be denied if you make a mistake or miss a deadline, and you won’t be allowed to start over.
Don’t risk losing your right to compensation. Contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your injury claim against the government.
Evidence and the Insurance Company
If you’re hurt because of a property owner’s negligence, you have a right to compensation for your damages. Damages usually include:
- Medical and chiropractic bills
- Out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions, crutches, bandages, etc.
- Lost wages, including sick days and vacation time used during recovery
- Pain and suffering
Unless you fell on government property, your injury claim will normally be made to the property owner’s insurance company.
When you’re hurt from slipping on ice or snow, it may seem obvious to you that the property owner was negligent, but the insurance company won’t take your word for it. It’s up to you to convince the insurance company their insured was to blame for your injuries.
You’ll need to collect good evidence to support a successful insurance claim or injury lawsuit.
Photographs and video: Use your cell phone to take pictures of the icy area where you fell. Take as many pictures as possible, including video footage. Try to capture a panoramic view, including the adjoining property where ice and snow were already cleared away. You want to make sure there’s little doubt the slippery condition exists.
Don’t miss the chance to take pictures of the accident scene. If your injuries are bad, ask someone to take pictures for you.
The ice and snow will probably be gone within hours, either removed by the property owner or from melting. Once the ice is gone, you’ve lost the opportunity to gather important visual evidence for your injury claim.
Witness statements: Gather witness statements from anyone who saw you slip and fall, or who can verify the dangerous icy conditions that led to your injury.
Friends and family members can provide a statement, but independent witnesses are even better. Because independent witnesses have no personal or financial interest in the outcome of your claim, their testimony has much greater weight and credibility with insurance adjusters.
Ask all your witnesses to write down how they saw you fall and describe the icy conditions. Have them write down their impressions of the pain you suffered when you fell. They can use any piece of paper available. Be sure they sign and date their statement.
Example: Witness to icy fall
It snowed a couple of days ago, and the temperature still hadn’t made it above freezing. Cold or not, you still had to walk your dog. The streets were plowed with high banks of snow along the edges, and traffic was heavy. Most of the sidewalks in your neighborhood had been shoveled and salted, so the pavement was clear and dry as you and Fluffy walked along.
Unfortunately, one neighbor didn’t bother to clear or treat the sidewalk. You slipped on the ice in front of their house, falling hard and breaking your arm.
A passing motorist saw you fall and pulled over to help. As the motorist approached to help you, he nearly fell, too. The man called 911 and stayed with you until paramedics arrived. He gave you his business card with his name and contact information.
The man was a cooperative witness. His compelling written statement detailed how the street conditions forced you to travel on the sidewalk, how you fell and were injured, and your pain, humiliation, and distress as you lay on the pavement waiting for help to arrive.
Medical records: The final piece of evidence to link your injuries directly to the property owner’s negligence are your medical charts and treatment records. Medical records are vital. They create the link between the slip and fall and your injury.
It’s important to prove the slippery condition was the direct and proximate cause of your injury. Without your doctor’s written diagnosis directly linking your injuries to the fall, the property owner’s insurance company can challenge your claim.
Be sure to tell every medical provider who treats your injuries exactly when, where, and how you slipped and fell on ice or snow. It’s important for the cause of your injuries to be included in your medical records.
When You Need an Attorney to Win
If you’ve recovered from soft tissue injuries like bumps and bruises, minor sprains, or small cuts and scrapes, you can probably negotiate a decent settlement without an attorney.
You can calculate a fair settlement amount by totaling your medical bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and lost wages. Then, add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Send a written demand for compensation with copies of your medical records and bills, lost wage statement, witness statements, and other evidence to support your claim.
We’ve made it easy with our sample Demand Letter for Slip and Falls on Ice.
If the property owner won’t give you their insurance information, you were injured on government property, or your claim is otherwise complicated, you’ll need an experienced personal injury attorney to get the compensation you deserve.
“Hard” injuries, like spinal cord injuries, brain damage, or injuries involving permanent disability or disfigurement are complicated, high-dollar claims.
Insurance companies are known for offering lower settlements to claimants who aren’t represented by an attorney. The insurance company doesn’t care what happens to you or your family.
There’s just too much at stake to try handling high-dollar clams on your own. Don’t let the insurance company call the shots.
There’s no cost to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.
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