As much of Britain begins to recover from the worst of the treacherous weather conditions that have wreaked havoc over many parts of the country, for some, recovery will not be so easy. What to do in case of an accident and who is liable.

As Britain battled the Beast from the East, the advice issued by the Government was not to travel unless you absolutely have to. Most of us wanted to wrap ourselves in a duvet, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm. However, unfortunately, for many, this was not possible and travelling to work, to care for loved ones or to take children to school was a necessity.

We witnessed widespread coverage in the news of the devastation caused by heavy snow and high winds on motorways and other public highways with the Highways Authority/local councils struggling to cope with demand for gritting.  Similar problems were faced in public places such as supermarkets, works premises and other places open to the public.  Inevitably, this resulted in many accidents. Many have been left wondering what the law says and whether  someone is  liable for their losses.

There is a legal duty for occupiers/owners of premises to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of visitors. What is reasonable in the circumstances will take into account many factors including the nature of the weather, predictability and what steps have been taken by the occupier/owner. 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. Whether that policy is sufficient will be a matter for legal advice as each case will be different.

The issue is more complex when the accident happened 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 then, 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.

Making a claim for an accident that has arisen out of adverse weather conditions, in particular snow and ice, may not be straightforward but seeking legal advice early on will provide you with firm guidance upon whether you have a claim, what the issues are and who may be liable.

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