Winter is quickly approaching. Throughout New York and New Jersey, people will soon be battening down the hatches, as they say, and getting prepared for potentially another brutal winter of snow, sleet and ice.
These cold winter hazards create many obvious dangers such as slippery roadways that lead to higher rates of automobile accidents. They can also cause slip-and-fall accidents for pedestrians.
What is a ‘Slip-and-Fall’ Injury?
A slip-and-fall injury is exactly what it sounds like: Someone has fallen down and suffered an injury. However, the law is quite complex when it comes to determining liability. As one might guess, not every situation where someone falls down is truly a “slip-and-fall” injury.
When attorneys speak of this type of case, they are talking about a situation where one person or business is negligent in some way, and it causes someone else’s injuries. This is known as negligence. It is the key to determining if someone else is at fault for the accident.
Preventing Slip-and-Fall Accidents in Winter Weather
Weather is impossible to really predict. We have Doppler radar and every sort of modern technological advance searching the sky for signs of what is to come. For the most part, meteorologists are pretty good at giving us a warning.
However, ultimately, anyone who has lived in New York and New Jersey long enough can tell you the weather can change quickly and leave you shivering in a parking lot with the wrong jacket, wrong shoes and wishing you had packed that rain coat.
Still, as EHS Today recently discussed, here are a few tips to keep you safe this winter.
1. Stay fit.
So, perhaps this is not a quick fix you can do before winter. However, think of it as more of a lifestyle goal that can keep you safe.
Ultimately, people who are in good physical health and who work out regularly are less susceptible to minor injuries. Being fit means remaining flexible, stretching muscles and building muscle tone. This will help you to keep from falling down and help to increase your endurance.
A person with strong cardiovascular endurance will not become tired or winded as easily and will be less likely to trip, stumble or fall as someone who is out of shape. Even after an injury, a physically fit person typically heals faster.
2. Check your feet.
For New Jersey and New York residents, quality footwear is a must. If you expect snow in the forecast, make sure you are wearing the right gear.
For example, while stilettos are fashionable, they may cause you to fall if you encounter snow and ice. If your job requires fashionable footwear, pack it in your bag or leave a couple pairs at the office.
3. Check your bag.
While people might think to bring a bag, they often do not think about what type of bag to bring. You should always select a solid, lightweight bag that can be carried without using your hands. Consider a briefcase with a shoulder strap or possibly a backpack. While not as fashionable, it will keep you on your feet and allow you more balance as you traverse the city streets.
How Could I Get Injured in a Slip-and-Fall Accident Despite Being Safe?
One of the biggest winter hazards created by property owners is allowing snow and ice to accumulate on sidewalks, roadways, driveways and inside doorways. Slippery ice and slush can cause a serious hazard for everyone, but the risk can be even greater for disabled and elderly individuals who may already have limited mobility.
The law does not really care how strong or weak the injured person is. If the property owner let the hazard exist and did not take reasonable measures to fix it, then he or she may be liable for the injuries. Even the safest people can fall and get injured in the snow.
How Do I Know if the Owner is Negligent?
The law is not always black-and-white when it comes to determining fault. Several elements go into proving a negligence claim – the first being the duty owed to you.
If the property is open to the public such as a government building, commercial storefront or a similar business, then it is likely the owner owed you a duty. Still, even private residence owners can owe a duty.
Second, you have to prove the owner neglected to do something reasonable to prevent the hazard.
Third, you must prove you were injured.
Fourth, you have to show that the hazard directly caused your injury and not some other incident.
Finally, you have to establish how much the injury has cost you. Each of these elements requires a careful legal analysis by an experienced slip-and-fall accident attorney.
Balancing Act – How Much Snow and Ice Is Too Much?
If there is enough snow to pose a reasonable threat, then it is enough. The same goes for ice or any other hazard. In general, however, the question will be whether the property owner’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, the answer will vary from incident to incident.
What if I Get Hurt Anyway?
Even if you did everything right, if you have fallen in snow or ice, follow this brief checklist:
1. Get medical attention.
Call 911 or see a healthcare provider the same day. Do not delay and wait to see if it gets better. In the moments following the incident, you may be in a lot of pain and unable to focus.
2. Try your best to remember the events.
Look around and take a mental note of your direction of travel, where you fell and the surroundings. If possible, ask a person you are with to take notes, pictures or video of the area.
3. Call a slip-and-fall lawyer.
Once you are stabilized and not in direct harm, call a lawyer or have someone do it for you. You should speak with an attorney before you speak to anyone other than your treating doctor.
4. Stick to the facts.
If the police or emergency workers need a statement, tell them the facts. Avoid guessing or making hasty assumptions. It is always better to say you will have to think about it and get back to them than to make a guess and be wrong.
Your lawyer can advise you and seek compensation for your medical expenses and lost wages. The lawyer can also help you to communicate the events to your insurance company, employer, authorities and the property owner’s insurance company.
5. Notify your employer.
Whether on the job or not, you need to let your employer know and make sure any short-term or long-term disability plans are made available to you.
You may be out of work for a while. Do not give detailed explanations. Simply pass along your lawyer’s contact information and let them know you were injured. Only answer questions once you have cleared it with your attorney.
6. Never speak with the property owner’s insurance company.
Until your attorney says you can, do not return calls from the property owner’s insurance company. The insurer has one goal in mind – to pay you as little as possible. Let your lawyer talk to them instead.
Don’t suffer alone if you are injured in a slip and fall accident this winter. Contact Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., in New Jersey and New York for a free consultation about your case.