Johann F. Szautner, PE ::::
Each winter, someone shopping, visiting a doctor’s office, a restaurant or any other business, will slip and fall on snow and ice. Statistics compiled and published by the insurance industry tell us that, in 2008, almost a quarter of all general liability losses were due to slip and fall accidents, caused by icy and snowy conditions on sidewalks, in parking lots and on roadways.
Generally, a business that invites customers onto its property to purchase merchandise and/or services has a duty to protect its customers, employees and vendors coming onto the property from unreasonably dangerous conditions, which could result in personal injuries. The key to the business owner’s liability is whether he knew or should have known about the dangerously icy and snowy conditions on walking surfaces and initiated their removal in a timely fashion.
It is important to remember that not all dangerous ice and snow conditions are created by Mother Nature alone. Poor and substandard property maintenance in general, and poor and substandard ice and snow removal practices in particular, are often the root causes for dangerous ice and snow conditions. For instance, on a winter day, above freezing temperatures may cause melt water roof run-off. If rain gutters leak, the dripping water may freeze on the ground during the night, when temperatures fall below freezing. As a result, ice will have formed on the sidewalk in front of the building entrance. Some deicing chemicals, such as rock salt, are only effective within a certain temperature range. When they become diluted with melt water and the temperature falls, refreezing will occur rapidly.
Often, snow removal consists of pushing snow away from areas of pedestrian and traffic circulation into temporary storage areas. If this is done without evaluating drainage conveyance of melt water, then un-expected puddles may form and freeze in areas where pedestrians walk. In order to have effective ice and snow removal operations, the following strategies need to be developed by the owner and/or his agent and their ice and snow removal contractor:
Anti-icing, this is the proactive application of chemicals before the event.
Plowing, this needs to begin quickly to remove compaction through traffic.
Deicing is the application of chemicals to be selected in accordance with surface material to be treated and temperatures to be expected.
Ice watch and spot control; this is the inspection after completion of operations, especially important if below freezing temperatures follow above freezing temperatures and refreezing is to be expected.
Taking these steps of implementing an effective ice and snow removal program now, may help to limit insurance premium costs and may avoid litigation costs in the coming winter.