The snow is melting all day and freezing all night. It’s a pedestrian nightmare out there. Injuries from slipping and falling on ice are common at this time of year in Alberta.
Slip and fall injuries typically occur in parking lots or on sidewalks. Although it is almost universally true that property owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care when it comes to maintaining these areas and promptly removing snow and ice to reduce the risk of falls and injuries, the duty differs depending on the property owner’s identity.
If you suffer a serious injury following a slip & fall, should you consider a lawsuit? The answer to this question largely depends on whether someone is responsible for your injury.
So, who is responsible for a slip and fall accident on ice or snow?
1. Property Owners & Snow Removal Companies
Property owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care for sidewalks and entrances, which includes removing snow and ice and laying down traction. However, the level of effort will differ based upon the use of the property, expected traffic in the location, and many other conditions. There are many considerations that will have an impact on you and your potential claim.
To complicate matters, businesses owners often contract snow removal companies to clear snow and ice on their property. Depending on the contract between them, this can mean that the snow removal company might also have a responsibility to care for the sidewalks and entrances, shifting some of the liability from the property owner. Despite this, there will still be a responsibility on the business owner to ensure that their sidewalks and entrances are safe. Balancing these responsibilities is the overriding maxim that business owners (and their snow removal companies) do not have an obligation to create an impossibly perfect environment notwithstanding the conditions. The success of a claim against a business in a slip and fall accident will very much depend on the facts specific to your case and a legal opinion as to whether there will be legal responsibility. The question to ask is whether the property owner’s conduct was reasonable considering all of the circumstances.
Homeowners also have a duty to maintain their walkways and driveways by removing snow and ice, and ensuring that their property is safe for visitors. Their home insurance companies will pay for the losses suffered by someone falling at a residential site.
IMPORTANT: homeowners often have city sidewalks in front of their houses, and municipal bylaws require homeowners to shovel these sidewalks or face possible penalties. However, the standard of care for homeowners won’t be as strict as for businesses and will differ for the part owned by the city and the part on their own property. Despite all of that, there are many instances where homeowners will actually be creating a hazard on the adjacent city sidewalk (such as directing an eaves trough to drain in a manner that causes water pooling). The City’s responsibility for removing snow and ice from public sidewalks is set out by the Municipal Government Act – and this makes it very difficult to sue the city for a slip and fall accident. The city is only liable for injury due to snow and ice on public property if the city is “grossly negligent” – which isn’t well defined but sets a very low bar for the city’s conduct. To make it even harder, you only have 21 days to notify the city of your slip and fall accident (unless the accident results in death or the city agrees to an extended deadline, or you have some reasonable excuse).
On top of all this, you also have a duty to exercise reasonable care for yourself while walking in an area you either know or should expect will be snowy or icy. This includes keeping a reasonable pace, wearing appropriate footwear, and being alert for hazards. If you don’t act carefully, this may reduce your compensation or possibly even bar it completely.
Further Your Chances of a Successful Claim
Once you have determined fault, you are able to take action. To further your chances of a successful claim, be sure to do these 3 things following a slip and fall accident. Additionally, the sooner you contact the personal injury lawyers at Robinson LLP after your slip and fall, the better your chances are of receiving compensation. At Robinson LLP, we work on a contingency fee so we don’t get paid until you do. Contact us today to get started.
This article was originally posted in March 2015 and updated in November 2018.