Snow and Ice Pose More Risks Than Just Slipping and Falling
Every year, we talk about the danger of slipping and falling on ice and snow that has not been cleared, or that has been improperly cleared. It’s an important topic – – about one million people across the United States are injured in falls on ice and snow each year, and thousands die from those injuries. But, it’s not the only hazard special to winter.
Some of those risks are specific to the activities we choose. For example a few dozen people die in snowboarding accidents in the United States each year. Ice skating causes many injuries, ranging from broken ankles to serious head injuries. Others are the results of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as people who get sick or die from exposure to the elements after being caught outside in a storm or losing power in their homes.
But some of those injuries, and not just slip and falls, happen because property was negligently maintained or property owners didn’t adequately warn visitors of hazards.
Falling Through the Ice is No Laughing Matter
You’ve undoubtedly seen people fall through the ice in movies – – sometimes it’s a humorous scene, and sometimes it’s a terrifying or tragic one.
In real life, a fall through the ice is rarely, if ever, entertaining. Cold water temperatures and heavy winter clothing make it very difficult for someone who falls through the ice into a lake or river to save themselves, and the rescue effort can be hazardous for others. Hypothermia can set in quickly, a fall through the ice can result in physical injuries such as head trauma or serious lacerations, and some people who fall through the ice are trapped and drown.
This type of accident is more common than you might realize. In late December, a Massachusetts man was hospitalized after falling through the ice in Winchester. The same week, a Lexington teen fell through the ice while playing hockey, and a teammate who attempted to help him also ended up in the water. Parents who were nearby and alerted to the situation pulled the boys out with a hockey stick and a dog leash.
Icicles Can Kill
No, this isn’t about the popular mystery trope about a weapon made of ice melting away without a trace and making it impossible to solve a murder. Depending on your views of winter, you may think icicles are a beautiful, natural addition to the décor or a nuisance. But, most people don’t give much thought to the danger of falling icicles and other ice and snow.
While it is not common for an icicle to fall just right to cause a serious injury, they do kill about 15 Americans every year. And, icicle deaths are more common in some other countries. The injuries associated with a falling icicle range from cuts and puncture wounds to bruises, head injuries, and even the occasional broken bone. This type of injury can occur when icicles naturally fall as a result of warming weather, though some homeowners inadvertently cause their own injuries attempting to knock icicles down.
The most dangerous type of falling ice injury typically occurs when the ice is dropping in sheets or blocks from a higher point. This is generally most common in larger cities and concentrated downtown areas with taller buildings, often made of glass and steel. These materials promote the formation of ice and change surface temperature in the sun. You may have seen sidewalks blocked off or signs on sidewalks in the city warning of falling ice at certain times of the winter. But many incidents can also occur unexpectedly. And, sometimes the precautions taken are inadequate.
For example, several years ago, two cars were crushed by falling ice in Boston. The sidewalk had been blocked off due to the risk of falling ice, but the ice traveled further than anticipated. A few years later, four cars were damaged by a 75-pound block of ice. In 2018, cars were damaged by ice falling from the Sagamore Bridge.
Who is Responsible for Snow and Ice Injuries?
General premises liability for slip and falls on the ice is pretty straightforward. If the owner or operator of the property fails to live up to its obligations regarding the safe clearing of snow and ice, they may be liable for injuries caused by those conditions.
Other types of snow and ice injuries may be more complicated. For example, an ice skater or snowboarder who is injured may be entitled to compensation if their injuries were caused by faulty maintenance of the property or faulty equipment. But, there is some risk inherent in those activities, and in some cases the athletes’ own negligence will have caused or contributed to the injury. Similarly, the owner of a local skating pond who allows skaters on the ice when temperatures are too warm to do so safely may be responsible for injuries if a skater falls through the ice. But, if the skaters are trespassing without the property owner’s knowledge, the landowner typically will not be responsible.
Due to the number of variables, the best way to get information about whether someone else may be liable for your snow and ice related injury is to talk to an experienced local injury attorney. Attorney Kevin P. Broderick offers free consultations to people who have been injured in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. You can schedule yours right now by calling 978-459-3085 or filling out the contact form on this site.
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