Safety Never Takes a Snow Day: How to protect yourself and your loved ones during winter storms

Mar 19, 2019 | Tom Teodori

Some view a blanketing of snow as a welcome occurrence while others 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 injuries often result in lost time 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 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 all age categories, 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. So 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 job.
  • 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 often are hurrying to get out of the unpleasant weather conditions. However, its 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 stepping on or off of curbs, as well as getting in and out of cars.
    • Be mindful of areas that have been subject to refreezing and particularly black ice.

Following these suggestions should help keep you safe. But, if you are being as careful as you can be and you still fall and are injured, the laws in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia 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 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 or 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 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 job it is to protect the insurance company’s 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, you need 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 prevented 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 this 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 not to follow the snow and ice removal safety rules, one if the first things that happens is the injured person gets 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. Each year more than 1,300 people lose their life in snow and ice related vehicle crashes. In addition, more than 116,000 people annually are injured in snow related crashes.

If you can stay off the roads, you should do so.

But, if you have to leave your home, here are a few suggestions to keep you safe while you are driving to 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 the event 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 the 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 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. At CHASENBOSCOLO, our trial lawyers that fight insurance companies in court and know how to stop the insurance lawyer from using this trick to avoid accountability.

Contributory negligence in a car wreck cases 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 its important to talk to an attorney before you talk to the insurance company, even if its just to know your rights.

Winter weather can be very dangerous, especially when people behave irresponsibly. Thinking about the dangers is the first step of protecting ourselves and our loved ones from life changes injuries. No matter how careful we are, the choices other people make can cause life changing injuries. If that happens, its important to know your rights and your legal options. This doesn’t just help you get justice, but 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. If you’ve been hurt as a result of someone else’s irresponsible actions in the snow, contact CHASENBOSCOLO for the experienced legal representation you deserve. Call (301) 220-0050 to set up your free consultation today.


What is My Case Worth and How is it Determined?

Sep 20, 2018 | Tom Teodori

If you’ve made it to this page, its probably because you, a family member or friend sustained injuries resulting from the negligence of a company or individual. According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle crashes in the United States during 2017 resulted in 40,100 deaths and 4,500,000 seriously injured people. Those numbers are mindboggling—110 people die each day in a motor vehicle collision and more than 12,328 are injured daily. For teenagers, car crashes are the number one cause of death. Tragically, you have a 1 in 102 odds of dying in a car crash during your lifetime. Being struck as a pedestrian is 1 in 561 and for those riding motorcycles, the odds are 1 in 846. Slip and fall statistics are also alarming. You have a 1 in 119 odds of dying as a result of a fall. The above numbers are ridiculously high, and you can see the real life and close-to-home tragic consequences of such events.

Negligence is frequently the result of somebody’s violation of the safety rules which are designed to protect us and keep us safe. Some sort of distraction, lack of proper attention, inadequate training, not following protocols, taking short cuts and otherwise not doing what a reasonable person would do creates the negligent conduct. When that safety violation occurs, the negligent party has an obligation to make things right. The question is—what is right?

How much money is right? What factors are considered in valuing an injury claim?

Although some might think it unseemly to value injury claims in dollars, that is the only method our system of justice allows. The United States’ system of justice derived from the common law system developed in England. Although many changes and modifications were made following our Declaration of Independence in 1776, we still hold to the judicial system that requires a negligent wrongdoer to fully compensate an injured party for his or her losses. Failure to do so is a failure to do justice. We are very fortunate to have the system we do because a justice system used in other parts of the world dates back to around 1754 B.C. Known for Babylonia King Hammurabi, its called the Code of Hammurabi. You are likely familiar with this justice system based upon retribution, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.

So, returning to your inquiry, what is a case worth? Numerous factors dramatically affect the value of an injury claim. Many will be discussed below, but some common factors include the defendant’s conduct, the injuries sustained, medical care, lost wages, permanent injury and where the injury occurred. Although you may have heard from a friend or family member about a formula for determining case value, that system or process really has not existed for decades. Insurance companies today use computers to determine case value. Experienced injury attorneys are aware of this and have the tools and resources to fight for fair compensation.

Are there any liability issues?

The first step in assessing proper case value is resolving any and all liability issues. Liability simply means who is at fault. Is the at fault party completely at fault, or only partially at fault? Is fault disputed? Depending on the state where the negligence occurred, fault is crucial. The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are three of the five jurisdictions in the United States that follow the concept of contributory negligence. In most states, comparative negligence is the standard. Why is that important to case value? In contributory negligence states, if the injured person is even 1% at fault then he or she is not entitled to any money—nothing! A harsh result, but that’s the legal standard in contributory negligence jurisdictions. In most of the US, the standard is one of comparative negligence. In such states, a comparison is made between the negligence of the parties and the injured person’s money award is reduced by his/her comparative negligence. So in a contributory negligence jurisdiction, if the injured party is found 1% at fault for a car crash, there would be no recovery. However, if with same set of facts the car crash occurred in a comparative jurisdiction (Pennsylvania) and the jury awarded $100,000.00 to the injured person, the award would be reduced by the injured person’s negligence (1% = $1,000.00), so the award would total $99,000.00.

Click here to learn more about how contributory negligence effects slip and fall cases.

How does an insurance company evaluate the value of your case?

In the past, an insurance company adjuster would use his/her common sense, education, training and experience to determine case value. However, in the mid 1990s, the claims departments of most large insurance companies underwent a radical transformation based upon suggestions by McKinsey Consulting. The suggestions were designed to reduce the amounts insurance companies were paying to injury victims, thereby dramatically increasing profits. So currently, most insurance companies use computer software based upon potentially hundreds to thousands of different data points to determine case value. One such program is called Colossus, which was originally created by Computer Science Corporation and leased to hundreds of insurance companies. The human element in reviewing claims has been significantly reduced, and at times, all but eliminated. The insurance industry cost savings have been huge while payments to injury victims have been dramatically decreased.

So, if an insurance company is going to use computer software to reduce the value of a case, what can be done about it? First, it’s important to retain a law firm experienced in handling claims with insurance companies using the computer software. Accurate documentation of injuries, type of medical care, body parts, loss of enjoyment, medical procedure codes, supporting records, medical billing codes, permanent injuries, etc. are important when preparing settlement demands that will be assessed by the computer.

Second, it’s critical to retain a lawyer and a law firm with a well-earned reputation for going to court. Insurance companies track and record which law firms fight for their clients by filing suit and which lawyers are more likely to just take the money and run. If your lawyer has a reputation for settling, you will get less of an offer than another lawyer with a reputation for fighting for his/her client. Normally, settlement value increases after suit is filed and may continue to increase as you get closer to the actual trial date.

Third, be prepared for a fight and you must remain patient. If the insurance company makes you an unfairly low offer and suit is filed on your behalf, the insurance company may hold on to its money until very close to trial. Insurance companies understand that they have the money and it doesn’t make much difference whether they pay today or one year from now. It’s not going to have much, if any, impact on the large insurance company. Insurance companies make money over time on their money through investments, so the delay is normally nothing but beneficial for insurance companies. You, on the other hand, have lost time from work, received less than you thought for the value of your vehicle, incurred medical bills that threaten to turn you over to credit agencies, spent through your savings and now feel the need to settle your claim. The insurance company now has you at a disadvantage. Again, an experienced injury lawyer will assist you through this difficult process and help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Some of the factors to consider in assessing case value include:

  1. The defendant’s behavior – The more outrageous the negligent behavior, the better the case value.
  2. The defendant – Will the defendant make a good or bad witness?
  3. The amount of insurance coverage
  4. The type of negligence claim – Minor rear-end crash versus tractor trailer setting off chain reaction collision.
  5. What county suit could be filed in – Certain jurisdictions are more favorable and insurance companies are aware.
  6. The injuries sustained and their extent and duration – Muscle strains versus herniated discs, brain injuries, fractures
  7. How the injuries effect your overall physical and mental well being
  8. The physical pain and mental suffering in the past and expected in the future
  9. Scarring – Scar to the face worth more than scar on back
  10. Medical expenses in the past and expected in the future
  11. Loss of earning in the past and expected in the future
  12. Past and future pain, permanent impairment, loss of mobility, companionship, enjoyment of the things you enjoy

No two cases are the same, and even similar facts and injuries frequently lead to widely different outcomes. What may be relatively minor for one person may be devastating for another—how can a computer make that determination? The problem is, insurance companies rely upon them to perform that function thousands of times per day. There is no humanity in using a computer to determine the seriousness of an injury and how it impacts and changes a person’s life. For that, you need an experienced lawyer on your side, one the insurance company knows will file suit if a fair offer is not made. Even so, because of the use of Colossus or similar programs, the insurance adjuster doesn’t have the flexibility to go above the computer value, so the decision must be made—settle or sue?

Ultimately, your case is worth this— what you’re willing to accept in settlement and if not, then what you are awarded at trial. A skilled trial attorney should be able to give you a pretty good idea of the value range of your claim based upon their experience.

A lawyer should also explain the settle or sue options so that a decision in the client’s best interests can be made. If the case ultimately proceeds to trial, then the value will be determined by a jury using many of the twelve criteria listed above.