Can compensation be claimed if an injury is caused by falling on the ice? Who is responsible?
In order to make a claim in relation to falling or skidding on ice, someone must be at fault.
As icy conditions pose an obvious risk of causing accidents, there are occasions when a duty of care is owed to take reasonable steps to minimise this risk. No-one can be held responsible for the weather, but if it can be proven that someone is at fault because they owed a duty of care to the road user, there may be grounds for a claim.
Local councils (local authorities; LAs) have a duty to maintain the main routes when bad weather is forecast. If they don't, and you have an accident, then you may have a claim. Likewise, if you slip while using a busy pavement maintained by the local authority (LA), again you may have a claim for any injuries that you suffer.
However, if you slip on ice at your place of work, it may be possible to make a claim against your employer for the injuries that you have suffered. This is because your employer has a duty of care to ensure that your place of work is safe and secure.
In icy conditions, your employer should ensure that work areas such as car parks, entrances, etc are gritted to minimise the risk of employees and visitors suffering injuries due to slips on ice or snow. This, of course, includes pavements, footpaths and car parks situated on an employer’s premises, in fact any area that an employee may need to use as part of his or her employment.
Employers have a high duty to keep employees safe and this includes reducing the risk of them slipping or tripping on their premises. The regulations 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.
The responsibility of 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, as set out in the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957. Although the duty listed in this Act is rather vague, it speaks of the occupier of the premises (which is not necessarily the same as the owner) having a duty totake 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.
So what does reasonable mean?
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. Theirproperty includes exterior areas such as car parks, walkways and pavements which people have to cross to enter, for example, the pub or café.
The majority of ice and snow related accidents happen on public roads or pavements, and generally fall under the responsibility of the local highways authority (The Highways Act 1980). There is considerable debate about how far a LA's duty of care extends as far as gritting and salting is concerned.
It would be an impossible task for any LA to make every highway, pavement and public area entirely safe during icy conditions. However, in theory, if a LA fails to grit a road or public area during busy times of the day when the weather is exceptionally cold and someone suffers an injury because of this, the injured party may be able to make a claim for compensation.
Occupiers of any land or buildings the public may have cause to visit, including shops, offices and car parks, have an obligation to take such care as is reasonable, to ensure the safety of their visitors.
Homeowners and occupiers of domestic property must also take care. If they clear a path through the snow, a visitor may assume it is safe underfoot, but if they then fall and are injured, the householder may be held responsible.
In respect of snow and ice on the road, although there may be no realistic prospect of succeeding in a claim against the highway authority, it still remains the position that drivers must drive safely and within the limitations imposed by the prevailing conditions. Therefore, if a driver is travelling too fast and loses control, causing an accident, they will not be able to defend any subsequent claim for compensation by blaming the accident on the snow and ice, because they will be considered the author of their own misfortune. However, any passengers may have a claim for compensation against the driver if they failed to take care and drive safely in adverse weather conditions.
Author: Aneka Shoukat
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Shire Solicitors directly.
Published on 20th October 2017
(Last updated 21st March 2018)