Harsh Winter Warnings – Slip and Falls are Serious Injuries
Only a single heartbeat, and it’s done. One minute, you’re walking along the sidewalk, and the next you’re on the ground, with a split-second of slipping on ice in between.
Every winter in Ontario, thousands of people are admitted to emergency rooms with serious personal injuries from slipping and falling on ice. In the winter of 2010-2011, there were 7,138 hospital admissions from slipping on ice alone, with over 70% of these injuries happening to people 50 years of age or older.
While younger people are at less risk, as one grows older the injuries can be far more severe. A fall can break bones, dislocate joints, and even cause brain damage. A senior suffering from a broken hip due to a fall has a 20% chance of dying due to the injury – and one-third of hospitalizations involving seniors also involve fractured hips. The economic cost is also massive – an estimated $2.8 billion per year for fall-related injuries nation-wide.
For property owners and cities, this can lead to a complicated legal landscape. Even if one is not a senior, a serious personal injury from a fall – such as a broken leg – can take weeks to heal. If somebody slips and injures themselves on private or municipal property, this creates liability for that damage.
Property owners have what is called a “burden of care” – a requirement that they must do everything reasonable to prevent these kinds of accidents from occurring on their property. In winter, this means shovelling driveways and pathways within a reasonable time, as well as laying down sand, salt, and breaking up ice. Many municipalities have bylaws requiring property owners to also keep sidewalks and public pathways alongside or cutting through their property clear.
However, if one is injured due to slipping on ice on public property, it is important to act quickly to get compensation. While the statute of limitations for injuries sustained on private property is a full 2 years, in Ontario the municipality involved must be informed, usually in writing, within 10 days that the injury has occurred so that an investigation may be conducted. Once this notification has been issued, there is still a two year period in which a lawsuit can be pressed, but without the required notification there is a high likelihood that the claim will be dismissed.
Ultimately, the best means of dealing with slips and falls on ice remains prevention. For property owners, this means keeping walkways and roads clear of ice and snow, as well as laying down salt and sand. It is best to clear snow and ice as soon after it falls as possible, as this will prevent it from being packed down.
For pedestrians, avoiding accidental falls covers everything from awareness of one’s surroundings to footwear. Running shoes, sneakers, and high heels are not suitable for slippery conditions and don’t have enough traction – instead, one should invest in proper winter boots that can handle ice and packed snow. As well, one should walk with slower, more measured steps during the winter, careful to maintain balance on slippery patches. One should also remain in well-lit areas, since black ice can easily be mistaken for wet pavement, and is next-to-invisible in the dark. As most injuries happen while one is climbing steps to a doorway or getting into or out of a vehicle, one should take special care when doing so, using railings where possible.
Slips and falls during the winter is a serious matter. Suffering a debilitating personal injury from a serious fall can mean weeks recovering and unable to work. Being on the receiving end of a lawsuit because of a failure to clear a pathway or driveway can increase insurance rates and turn into a nightmare of litigation. Being informed of your obligations and possible dangers is good, but using that to avoid slips, falls, and injuries is even better.
Author Robert B. Marks is a writer, editor, and researcher in Kingston, Ontario, who spent several years working as a writer and editor for the Queen’s University Faculty of Law.