slip and fall attorneys

Safety Never Takes a Snow Day: How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones During Winter Storms

by | March 21st, 2018

This post was written by ChasenBoscolo attorneys Ben Boscolo and Tom Teodori.

Some view a blanketing of snow as a welcome occurrence, while others see it as an annoying disturbance. Regardless of your viewpoint, snow and ice frequently result in workplace injuries or negligence claims. In 2014, more than 42,000 people were hurt on the job in snow- and ice-related accidents. These types of injuries often result in time away from work and the need for medical treatment. The most common injuries are traumatically caused from slipping and falling or are exertional injuries from snow removal. These injury categories may be very broad, but they often involve strains and sprains to the neck and back, broken bones, concussions, joint injuries to the knees, hips or shoulders, spinal injuries and/or heart attacks. Although snow- and ice-related injuries affect people of all ages, the elderly are particularly susceptible.

If you were injured while working due to weather-related conditions, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have distinct laws when it comes to workers’ compensation, so knowing and being advised of your legal rights is important. For more information on those rights, check out David Kapson’s recent blog post.

How can I stay safe while walking in wintry weather?

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that falling is the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for those 24 years and older. In order to protect yourself while walking on snow-covered or icy sidewalks and parking lots, you should be mindful of the following:

  • If you do not have to go out, the best way to stay safe is to stay at home to allow snow and ice removal teams to do their jobs.
  • If you have to go out, please be patient with the working men and women who are cleaning up our communities. Here are a few suggestions:
    • Don’t rush. It’s normal to want to get inside and warm up, so people are often in a hurry to get out of the unpleasant weather conditions. However, it’s safer to take it slow and use flat-footed and small steps—almost like a penguin. Stay on cleared or treated walkways and avoid untreated shortcuts.
    • Wear proper footwear for the conditions—avoid heels and smooth-soled shoes.
    • Stay off your phone, watch where you are walking and try to avoid carrying heavy loads.
    • Be very careful when stepping on or off of curbs, as well as when getting in and out of cars.
    • Be mindful of areas that have been subject to refreezing and black ice.

Following these suggestions should help keep you safe. If you are being as careful as you can be but you still fall and are injured, there are laws in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to protect you. If this happens, it is important that you speak with a trial lawyer who is experienced in handling slip and fall cases.

How long do property owners have to clear sidewalks after a snowstorm?

The simple fact that you fell and are injured does not mean that the person who owns the property is responsible for taking care of your medical expenses, lost wages and potentially life-changing injuries.

In D.C., property owners are required to clear the sidewalks within 8 daylight hours of a snowstorm. Both businesses and homeowners face fines for not clearing sidewalks.

Maryland does not have a statewide snow removal law. The safety rules for snow removal are set by the individual counties. Montgomery County requires property owners to perform snow removal within 24 hours. Property owners in Prince George’s and Howard Counties have 48 hours to complete snow and ice removal. Charles County has no safety rules requiring property owners to shovel snow and clear ice from sidewalks.

Virginia also leaves the snow and ice removal safety rules to the local governments. The City of Alexandria requires snow clearing within 24 to 72 hours, depending upon the severity of the storm. Arlington’s snow and ice removal rules allow 24 to 36 hours, depending upon the severity. Neither Fairfax County nor Prince William County have safety rules for snow and ice removal.

Who is responsible?

While the law is designed to protect our communities and its members, actually holding the person who caused the injury accountable can be very tricky for multiple reasons:

Both businesses and homeowners have insurance to protect them if someone is hurt by their negligence or irresponsibility with snow and ice removal. But insurance companies employ armies of lawyers whose jobs are to protect the insurance companies’ money. They know all of the tricks that can be used to avoid having to pay for an injured person’s medical expenses, lost wages and life-changing injuries. When an injury in a fall changes your life, it’s important to talk with a trial lawyer who has actually gone to court in these kinds of cases to have a fighting chance against the insurance company’s lawyers.

Here are a few of the legal tricks that insurance company lawyers use:

  • First, the insurance company will say there’s nothing the business or homeowner could have done to prevent the fall or the resulting injuries. This is simply not true. An experienced trial lawyer will know how to show all of the steps that a responsible property owner should’ve taken in order to prevent ice and snow from creating the risk of a fall, much less the fall that actually happened.
  • Second, the insurance company’s lawyer will argue that the business or homeowner did not know that there was a dangerous condition on their property. This argument stops many innocent people from being protected since proving that the property owner had notice requires very specific evidence. Again, an experienced trial lawyer will know how to fight the insurance companies’ tactics and find the evidence needed.
  • Finally, and most dangerously, is contributory negligence. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are three of the five states in the United States that still follow the rule of contributory negligence. What that means is that if the insurance company’s lawyer shows that the injured person was 1% at fault for the fall, the property owner is not responsible to pay for the injuries.

Beware of Recorded Statements

When someone in our community is injured by a property owner’s choice to not follow the snow and ice removal safety rules, the injured person will likely get a phone call from a representative of the property owner’s insurance company. The insurance company will tell the injured person that they need to take a statement to set up the claim. DO NOT GIVE A STATEMENT. That statement will give the insurance company lawyer all the ammunition they need to shoot down your claim.

How do I stay safe while driving during winter storms?

People who are not able to stay at home during winter storms frequently have to drive. But driving in winter conditions is more dangerous than trying to cross slippery sidewalks and parking lots on foot. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 17% of all vehicle crashes are caused by winter weather conditions. More than 1,300 people lose their lives in snow- and ice-related vehicle crashes each year. In addition, more than 116,000 people are injured in snow-related crashes annually.

IF YOU CAN STAY OFF THE ROADS, YOU SHOULD DO SO.

If you do have to leave your home, here are a few suggestions to keep you safe while you are driving to help protect both yourself and those on the road around you:

  • Make sure your vehicle is winterized and that you have appropriate clothing and supplies in your car in the event that something goes wrong.
  • Since everything takes longer on snow covered roads, remember to accelerate, brake and turn slowly. Give yourself and your vehicle time to safely respond.
  • Double your following distances.
  • Try to avoid stopping on hills. Maintain some momentum in order to prevent getting stuck.
  • Try to avoid coming to a complete stop. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling, you will lesson your chances of getting stuck.
  • If all else fails, be mindful that if its not necessary, don’t go out until government crews have safely treated the roads.

If you are injured by an irresponsible driver during winter weather conditions, the laws of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia will protect you. The irresponsible or negligent driver is required to pay for your medical expenses, lost wages and interruption in your life that they cause.

We all know that the drivers on the roads in our community are covered by insurance. If you are injured in a car wreck during winter weather conditions, you should talk to a trial lawyer who has a track record in court with these kinds of cases. Many people believe that making a claim for injuries in a car wreck will cause their insurance bills to go up. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Only the person who causes the wreck will pay higher insurance bills.

How Insurance Companies Protect Irresponsible Drivers in Winter Weather Crashes

Just like in fall cases, drivers who do not follow the traffic safety rules are protected by insurance companies and their armies of lawyers. Everything the insurance company says to you and asks you to do after a wreck is carefully planned. The plan is designed to make sure the insurance company lawyer can make the injured person look like a liar, a faker or a fraud at trial. DO NOT TALK TO THE INSURANCE COMPANY WITHOUT GETTING LEGAL ADVICE FIRST.

Just like in slip and fall cases, there are legal defenses that relate to winter weather conditions that can be used to protect drivers who do not follow the traffic safety rules—and their insurance companies’ wallets. Two of these defenses are the “sudden emergency doctrine” and contributory negligence.

An insurance company will argue that winter weather conditions create “sudden emergencies.” They will say that these emergencies make car wrecks unpreventable. But this is simply not true. If the injured person gives the insurance company a recorded statement, one of their goals will be to gather facts from that person that can be used in court to prove that the injury was the result of an unpreventable sudden emergency. A trial lawyer that fights insurance companies in court will know how to stop the insurance lawyer from using this trick to avoid accountability.

Contributory negligence in a car wreck case is the same as in a slip and fall case. What this means is that if the insurance company’s lawyer shows that the injured person was 1% at fault for the wreck, the irresponsible driver gets a pass for the injuries they caused. Again, this is why it’s important to talk to an attorney before you talk to the insurance company, even if it is just to know your rights.

Winter weather can be very dangerous, especially when people behave irresponsibly. Thinking about the dangers is the first step in protecting ourselves and our loved ones from suffering life-changes injuries. No matter how careful we are, the choices other people make can still lead to life-changing injuries. If that happens, its important to know your rights and your legal options. This doesn’t just help you get justice—it helps make our communities safer by making it clear that property owners and drivers who take a snow day on the safety rules won’t get a pass.