We have recently looked at claims for injuries to drivers caused by vehicle slipping accidents in wintry conditions and now it’s time to look at claims by pedestrians in similar circumstances.
Slips on premises – reasonable scope for a claim
If you slipped on premises where the owner or occupier is responsible for keeping the property free from snow and ice, you may have a claim against them under the Occupiers’ Liability (Scotland) Act 1960.
Slips while you are working – reasonable scope for a claim
Slips due to snow and ice while at work may be covered by health and safety regulations, though you need to note the uncertainty arising from the changes brought about by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. There may be reasonable prospects of a successful claim even if the accident did not occur on property belonging to your employer.
Slips in the street – or “public liability” slips – poor chances of success
The most common scenario, however, is where you have been out in the street, going about your daily business and not “at work” and you have slipped and fallen on an untreated, icy road or pavement. The elderly and infirm are particularly vulnerable and the typical injury – a broken wrist resulting from a fall onto an outstretched hand as you try to break your fall – can have life-changing consequences for older folk. What are your chances of being able to claim compensation for your injuries in this type of accident?
Not very good, unfortunately.
Discretion of local authorities and winter maintenance policy
In towns and cities, responsibility for winter maintenance treatment of roads and footpaths lies with the local authority. In Moray, it is the responsibility of the Moray Council. At just about every public place within Moray it’s up to the Council to deal with any snow and ice that may appear there.
Of course, the Council has limited resources and cannot instantaneously treat snow and ice at every location in its area as soon as it develops. The law requires Councils to have a policy for winter maintenance treatment and, within that, a hierarchy for treating roads and pavements in their region.
As a general rule, roadways are regarded as much more important than footpaths and pavements. A vehicle sliding out of control is more likely to be a lethal weapon than a slipping pedestrian.
If there is a fall of snow, the Council’s gritting lorries will head out to the main roads in their area first of all. They will then cover secondary roads and so on down the order of importance. If more snow falls, they will start again with the main roads. So if there is an extended period of wintry weather, minor roads may only be treated after several days or never be treated at all before the temperature rises and a thaw takes place.
Pavements and footpaths are a low priority for gritters
Footpaths and pavements come far down the list, in terms of importance. Pedestrianised areas, such as Elgin High Street, will have higher priority for winter maintenance treatment than, say, a residential cul-de-sac. It is only in high-volume pedestrian areas that you are likely to have much of a chance of claiming successfully if you are injured as a result of slipping due to the state of the pavement.
The irony is that, as a pedestrian, you will probably have better prospects of making a successful claim if you slip on the roadway itself as opposed to the pavement beside it.
We have considerable experience of this type of claim and a case we ran (and lost) in 2005 is used as an illustration of the difficulty of gaining compensation for the injured person in Ronald Conway’s Personal Injury Practitioner “bible” – Personal Injury Practice in the Sheriff Court – now in its third edition.
Murdoch -v- The Moray Council (unreported, Sheriff Principal Young, 27 April 2005) concerned a slipping accident which happened on the pavement of Duff Place, Bishopmill, Elgin, in icy conditions just after New Year 2001. This part of the town is very much a residential area, though there are shops and a primary school in the vicinity. The Sheriff Principal found in favour of the local authority, even though the pavement had been left ungritted over the Christmas period for 9 days. He took the view that, even if earlier winter maintenance treatment had been carried out, the weather conditions immediately before the day of the accident would probably have produced fresh ice.
Practical protective measures
If there is snow on the ground outside, it is best to assume that you are responsible for your own actions and, should you slip due to the state of the ground, you probably will not be able to make a claim against anyone for injury compensation (unless you are at work or on premises or both).
Staying at home is unlikely to be a realistic option beyond the short-term and it might be worth investing in “crampons” of the type mentioned in this previous blog post (or snow shoes or skis).
Get in touch with us for help
If you are unlucky enough to fall and suffer injury due to slippery conditions in sub-zero temperatures, get in touch with us and we will see what we can do to help. All initial enquiries are without obligation and free of charge.
Ideally, you need to get someone to take photos of the locus to show it in the condition it was at the time of your fall or as soon after as possible. We will also need to work out as accurately as possible how long the snow / ice at the locus was lying there before your fall.
These are only things which can be done in the immediate aftermath of an accident of this kind and, where there is any significant delay in a person seeking advice following a slip on ice accident, it can become virtually impossible to get the necessary evidence to decide that there is the basis of a claim.
Where you or a friend or relative has suffered injury due to a “slip on ice” accident and you need help, you can contact Peter Brash or Marie Morrison on 01343 544077 or complete and submit to us a free online claim enquiry form. You can use the form to ask one of us to call you back to discuss.