Extreme Winter weather, and in particular snow and ice, is a nuisance for us all. As temperatures plummet, we’re often advised only to venture out if our journey is absolutely crucial. That’s all well and good, but the fact is that life can’t just come to a standstill because the roads and footpaths become more treacherous, and no matter how much care you take, the fact is that accidents are going to happen, and people are going to get injured.
So if you injure yourself like this, when can you claim compensation, and who can you claim against ?
Slipping on Public Highways
Any local authority has a duty, enshrined in the Highways Act 1980 to maintain the highway at public expense (Section 41(1)), which has been updated more recently to confirm that they must “… ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice “ (Section 41(1A)).
A “highway” for this purpose would include any public road or footpath.
The key here is the phrase “ ….so far as is reasonably practicable…”.
The Court does not expect a local authority to grit, or clear, snow and ice, from every inch of the highway that they are responsible for. What is expected is that they have a reasonable gritting policy in place, and that they can show that (when needed) that gritting policy was actioned as it should have been. Such a policy would include details of how and when weather forecasts should be monitored to predict bad weather; what kind of forecasts should trigger gritter lorries being sent out; and which streets or footpaths should be gritted (and in what order).
The Courts have traditionally been reluctant to pin blame on local authorities in claims relating to accidents in the snow and ice, and that approach continues today. Unless there is no gritting policy in place (which would probably never happen in reality), or it has not been carried out (which can be hard to prove) then legal liability is unlikely to attach to the local authority in question.
In practical terms, therefore, unless you slip on a main route, which has obviously not been gritted, your chances of succeeding with a claim against the local authority are quite small.
Slipping On Private Land
The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 places a duty on occupiers of premises to “… take such care as in all the circumstances is reasonable to see that the visitor is reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted to be there “ (Section 2(2)).
An “occupier” is the person with main control over the premises in question.
The word “premises” is construed to mean land (whether or not a building is present), and includes places such as railway lines, airport runways, private footpaths and car parks.
So if you slip and injure yourself on an icy car park, or footpath, on private land then it will be up to the occupier of that land to prove that they did everything which was reasonable to avoid the accident occurring. What is reasonable will depend upon a number of factors, but may vary depending upon such matters as what the land is used for; whether the occupier knew or ought to have known about the hazard having developed; and whether it was foreseeable that any accident would happen if the hazard wasn’t identified and cleared.
Generally speaking, it will be easier to attach legal liability to the owner of private land if you slip and fall on their property.
Slipping at Work
Any employer owes each of their employees the duty of care in their capacity as occupier of their work premises (or areas where their employees are sent to work, subject to their having a certain level of control over the same)
However, on top of this, employees also enjoy the benefit of a raft of health and safety regulations which place obligations on their employers to (for example) provide a safe place of work and carry out risk assessments to identify and avoid potential dangers in the workplace. In particular, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992, specifically state :
12.—(1) Every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be of a construction such that the floor or surface of the traffic route is suitable for the purpose for which it is used.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (1), the requirements in that paragraph shall include requirements that—
(a) the floor, or surface of the traffic route, shall have no hole or slope, or be uneven or slippery so as, in each case, to expose any person to a risk to his health or safety
An employee who slips on ice and injures himself whilst at work, therefore potentially has far more potential arguments as to why his employer is legally liable for that injury, than those who slip on the public highway or on private land.
A common feature of all of the above claim types is that the Defendants (and their insurers) are likely to argue strongly against any liability, right from the start.
If you slip and hurt yourself this Winter, our experienced personal injury lawyers will be able to advise you (at any early stage, and free of charge) whether your claim has realistic chances of being successful, and if so, work for you on a no win no fee basis, to maximise your chances of receiving compensation.