By Francis M. Smith
The fact that snowy weather can create slippery conditions that increase the danger of falling accidents is not news to any long-time New Jersey resident. However, it’s much easier to forget that a brief stretch of 40-degree rainy weather can create conditions that are just as dangerous – if not worse – when the temperature dips below freezing again during the night. The rainfall may melt away any accumulated snow at the edges of roads and walkways, but very little of that moisture is absorbed into the cold winter air. Most of it lingers on the surface of sidewalks and driveways until the weather turns cold enough that the residual water re-freezes into a slick, near-invisible sheet of ice. If that isn’t perilous enough, even a dusting of snow can completely conceal the ice on walkways, making it harder for pedestrians to anticipate the presence of slipping hazards.
Property owners, particularly business owners and landlords, have a duty of care toward customers and other lawful visitors, which includes ensuring that these visitors have reasonably safe walkways to use when entering, leaving, and traversing the premises. Because slippery and icy conditions are a foreseeable hazard during New Jersey winters, the owners and managers of these properties have a responsibility to take steps to remove or prevent the formation of icy patches on sidewalks and driveways where visitors might slip. This may involve directly shoveling snow, or hiring a contractor for snow removal, and usually must also involve spreading some combination of road salt or chemical ice-melt to discourage ice formation, and/or sand to provide additional traction against slippery surfaces. Property owners should also watch for areas where runoff from melted snow, leaking rain gutters, or other phenomena cause puddles of water to accumulate in driveways or paths, as these will most likely turn icy and dangerous when temperatures drop below freezing.
A slip and fall accident on ice can be more dangerous than many people realize. Without even the meager cushioning offered by snow, a pedestrian who slips on ice has no protection from the hard pavement. If your hands are full when you start to slip (perhaps because you’re just coming out of a store carrying shopping bags), you won’t be able to use your arms to regain your balance, or break your fall with your hands, thus increasing your risk of serious injury. Unfortunately, many people find it embarrassing to slip and fall on ice, especially in public (many a slapstick comedy routine has been built around the act of slipping and falling), so the natural reaction for some is to minimize the event, brush themselves off, and try to pretend it didn’t happen. If it turns out you suffered an injury, however, this is the worst thing you could do for yourself. Obviously you shouldn’t exaggerate anything about your accident or injuries, but don’t unnecessarily ignore it, either. If you suspect you have suffered an injury that may have to be that may have to be documented later, collect the contact information of anyone who witnessed your accident, and document the scene where you fell with photos – better still, ask someone you trust to gather this evidence for you, while you seek medical attention for your injuries as promptly as possible.
The injuries that result from a slip and fall accident can be devastating, regardless of the age or physical condition of the person who suffers the fall. One of the most common injuries in slip and fall accidents is head trauma. Concussions, or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are dangerous for anyone, and may take weeks or months to recover from. (Unfortunately some who suffer a brain injury never recover.) Even if fully recovered, the victim has an increased vulnerability to future TBIs, and sustaining a second blow to the head before recovering from an initial TBI can be life-threatening. Other possible injuries resulting from a fall accident include bone fractures, sprains, and spinal injuries, all of which can have lasting health effects, a risk which increases without prompt and proper medical treatment.
If you slipped and fell on ice because a property owner neglected to take appropriate measures to provide a safe walking path for visitors, you have the right to pursue compensation for your injuries. This compensation can include not only the cost of any medical treatment required by your slip and fall injuries, but also any wages you missed while you were unable to work due to your injuries, or work you missed due to medical appointments or physical therapy. You may also be entitled to compensation for other expenses stemming from your inability to perform your usual tasks due to injury, such as housework, driving, and child care. Depending on the nature and severity of your injuries, you may also be able to seek compensation for the pain and suffering caused by your injuries. Your attorney can advise you regarding the specifics of your damages, and what is needed to protect your rights.