Slip & Fall Accidents on Ice and Snow – A Primer for Rhode Island Residents

With forecast for the weeks to come including snowfall and freezing temperatures, Rhode Islanders should be extra careful to avoid slip and fall accidents on snow or ice – and should know their rights in case such an accident occurs

Difficulties of New England Winters

Even though this winter Rhode Islanders have endured some biting cold temperatures, the weather for the past two months has been relatively mild in comparison to the meteorological events that shook the region almost exactly a hundred years ago. Back then, the winter elements raged so fiercely that the whole Narragansett Bay froze solid and people drove horse wagons across it. The Narragansett Times, a local Rhode Island newspaper, described the winter season of 1917/1918 this way: “Heaters busted. Pipes frozen. Ice three feet thick, temperature 16 below. With coal bins empty, this is the life that has been”. Judging by this description, it must have been a truly miserable winter indeed.

Winters that harsh seem to be somewhat a thing of the past, but it is still somewhat difficult to imagine wintertime in New England without snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. If we’re to believe current weather reports, winter hasn’t said its last word this season yet, and Rhode Islanders might be in for some more days of cold and snowfall. While New England may look beautiful with its iconic landscape covered in snow, icy streets and sidewalks in winter time present a heightened potential for accidents and injuries. In this week’s blog post we explore the legal responsibilities of property owners to keep their premises safe during winter, as well as compensation options personal injury claims for those who became injured following a slip and fall accident on ice or snow.

Slip and Fall Risks are Real

Even though a slip and fall accident may seem like a mundane or even funny occurrence to some, it is by no means a laughing matter. Slip-and-falls can have serious, long-term, and sometimes even dramatic health consequences for the injured individual. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 alone, “older Americans experienced 29 million falls causing seven million injuries and costing an estimated $31 billion in annual Medicare costs”. It’s not just the elderly, though, who are at a higher risk of suffering severe health problems following a fall. The CDC further reports that more than one million Americans are injured, and about 17,000 die each year in slip and fall accidents. In addition, falls are said to be one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injury which claims 153 American lives every day.

What the Law Says

The health risks related to slip and fall injuries and the economic consequences associated with their treatment are among the reasons that legislators introduced strict premises liability laws concerning slip and fall accidents. According to these requirements, the property owner has the responsibility to keep and maintain reasonably safe conditions on the property premises. If he is aware of or should have known of,  a potential safety hazard, and yet is negligent in taking care of it, he may be found liable for accidents that take place as a result. Some additional laws, both on the state and local levels, further specify that a property owner has the responsibility to maintain his property free of ice and snow. For example, the city of Providence requires all property owners to remove snow within 8 hours of daylight once the snowfall has stopped under penalty of a fine of up to $500. In Warwick, property owners and managers are required to remove snow and ice within first 72 hours of the last snowfall and a failure to do so may result in a fine of up to $175. Furthermore, Rhode Island’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, states that a landlord or property owner has a legal duty to maintain shared and commonly used areas such as walkways, stairways and parking lots reasonably free of snow and ice.

If Injured on Ice or Snow

What, then, should you do if you become injured in a slip and fall accident on a privately owned or public space, such as a parking lot or a sidewalk because the responsible parties showed negligence in keeping the area clear of snow or ice? In this situation, It is vital to realize your legal rights and whether you may be in a position to file a personal injury claim against the property owner or manager.

However, slip and fall claims are by no means automatically resolved in favor of the injured party. As is the case with other types of personal injury claims, the burden of proof lies with the injured person. This means that if you get hurt due to someone else’s negligence, you will need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accident occurred as a result of another party’s negligence. If you find yourself in a situation like this, we strongly advise you to take photographs of the place where the accident occurred as well as its immediate surroundings. This type of evidence may be vital to proving fault in a personal injury claim or lawsuit. Documenting proof is especially crucial in slip and fall cases involving ice or snow because the circumstances that led to the accident and injury – an icy sidewalk or snow accumulated on a parking lot – may rapidly change and any physical evidence may quickly disappear.

If your injuries do not require immediate medical attention, there are additional actions that you should take that might later help you obtain just compensation for your injuries. For example, if the accident occurred on commercial property, it would be advisable to fill out an incident report, making sure to detail both the circumstances and the consequences of the fall. If the slip and fall happened on a privately owned property, you would need to immediately identify and notify the property owner, keeping in mind that written (letter, email, text) notice is ideal. In both cases, looking for potential witnesses to the occurrence and taking down their names, phone numbers, and addresses is a helpful step in preserving a strong claim.

Of course, seeing a doctor to receive emergency professional medical attention and treatment is indispensable even if your injuries seem minor. Some types of damage – such as concussion, traumatic brain damage, or even some bone fractures like navicular bone fractures or chip bone fractures – may show few symptoms at the onset and may be difficult to self-diagnose. Such injuries, however, may later prove to have dramatic long-term health consequences and medical records that show immediate attention to injuries are another vital element of a strong personal injury claim.

Staying Safe – a Shared Responsibility

The current winter season still has some days of snow and freezing temperatures in store for Rhode Islanders. What we owe to one another during this period of short days and long nights is to make safety our shared priority. If we all take this duty seriously and maintain our properties – both public and private – clear of snow and ice, we may reduce the number of dangerous slip and fall accidents. Our staff at Marasco & Nesselbush, LLP, would like to take this opportunity to wish all our fellow residents of New England a safe and enjoyable winter season.