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Can I make a claim if I have an accident due to bad weather?

View profile for Pauline Smith
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Working outside in winter - what could and should your employer be doing?

Autumn is upon us and winter is just around the corner. Due to leaves on the ground, dark mornings and evenings, low sun, and even ice and snow, accidents are typically more likely to happen at this time of year. 

Surely, slipping on ice and snow isn’t anyone’s fault? 

This actually very much depends on where the accident occurred. If you are walking on a public highway, and slip on an icy pavement, then the possibility that you can recover compensation from your local highway authority or council is pretty slim. All councils have limited budgets, and whilst most of them do have a programme of works to deal with such things as resurfacing and repairing of dangerous or actionable defects on a pavement or road, unfortunately, they cannot be expected to grit every single road and pavement in icy weather.  The courts recognise that they neither have the staff nor the materials to grit or salt every single road in their borough. 

Similarly, slipping on wet leaves accumulated from trees planted on the highway is also a tricky claim to bring. Natural foliage drop, along with hazards on the pavement due to extreme weather conditions are known as “transient defects”. In other words, defects which are temporary and outside of anyone’s control. A dangerous build up of algae and moss on someone’s premises is slightly different because these are not necessarily transient defects, but perhaps a hazard which a responsible owner or occupier would identify if checking their premises regularly.

What if I have slipped on ice outside a supermarket, or in my employer’s car park?

These claims are tricky, but not always impossible. If shopping centres, and supermarkets have private car parks, and remain open for business during very inclement weather, then they are inviting you - as a lawful visitor - onto their premises. In doing so, they should arguably make sure that their customers who are invited to shop with them are safe when parking their car and walking to and from the store. Weather reports are readily available when a really cold snap is due (and you can hardly avoid it on the news!) therefore, occupiers of this type of premises should ensure that they have the materials and equipment ready in case they need to grit the walkways around the premises, and their car park.

Your employer also has a duty of care to keep you reasonably safe if you have to get into the workplace during bad weather. However, please note the use of the word reasonably, as the burden upon an employer is not absolute. For example, if your employer had gritted an employee car park in the morning, and rain had then fallen and re-frozen, whilst in an ideal world there would be a continual gritting process going on throughout the course of the day, this would be unlikely to happen. Courts may take a pragmatic approach to a case such as this.  Clearly the employer had made some effort to ensure the safety of their employees, but they would not be expected to employ someone to spend the entire day, clearing snow, and gritting a large car park. Employers and occupiers of other premises cannot be expected to remove every single risk of harm to persons using their premises, as this would be known as a “counsel of perfection”, and this would place too great a burden upon them.

The best way forward it would seem to prepare yourself for cold weather spells, wear sensible footwear with a good grip, and don’t rush to get to your destination.

If you have had an accident in this type of circumstance, and would like some help and guidance on whether you can make a claim from our specialist personal injury lawyers, please contact us on 0161 696 6235 .