We have been told by weather forecasters that the freezing temperatures, high winds and snow are expected, some predicting we could face one of the coldest winters in 30 years. The disruption caused by these weather conditions can be frustrating at best, devastating at worst, but what happens when this weather affects our very livelihoods as result of suffering injury in an accident caused by those conditions?
Most of us will recall the devastating effects of the ‘Beast from the East’ in February / March 2018. We recall the news coverage of stranded vehicles, frozen lakes and widespread snow and ice covering our roads and pavements. We remember the tragic loss of life, mainly caused by road traffic accidents but also from falls. Whilst people were afraid to leave their homes, many of us had no choice but to ‘get on’ with our day to day lives, hoping local authorities would be able meet the demand for gritting of roads and pavements. Furthermore, that our employers, supermarkets and other public places were taking all reasonable steps to ensure we were safe when visiting them. However, what happens when those steps aren’t taken and it results in an accident and injury. What happens with the losses that result from that injury, the pain and suffering, the loss of earnings, the disruption to family life, the expenses you have to incur through no fault of our own? Can you claim those back from the party responsible for that accident? Where do you stand legally?
When an accident happens on an icy road or pavement which is maintained at the public expense, liability will be determined with reference to the statutory provisions set out in the Highways Act 1980. Under the provisions of that legislation the Highway Authority ‘are under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice’. What is ‘reasonably practicable’ can be a complex issue and has been subject to much legal debate. If, however, the accident was caused by a motorist driving negligently, the matter may be more straight-forward and a claim can be made against that driver’s insurer or, in the event of that driver not being insured or being untraced, the Motor Insurers Bureau.
If the accident happens in a public place such as a supermarket/ shop or some other business /company, then this would fall under the statutory provisions set out in the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957. Under that Act there is a legal duty on occupiers/owners of those premises to take reasonable steps to ensure they are safe for lawful visitors. Many factors will be taken into account when determining whether they have acted reasonably including the nature of the weather, predictability and what steps have been taken. Certainly they will need to have some sort of adverse weather policy in place and to have taken steps to comply with that to protect the safety of their lawful visitors, such as gritting and placing warnings around the premises. Similar duties are placed on employers. They too need to ensure they have taken reasonable steps to ensure your safety whilst in the course of your employment.
As with any claim arising from an accident, obtaining legal advice early on will help you understand whether you have a claim, what the issues are, who may be liable and what and how much you can claim.