Property owners are not required to ensure that their sidewalk, parking lots or stairways are completely free of snow or ice. That would be an impossible burden. However, property owners have responsibility to do what is reasonable to remove snow and ice to protect pedestrians.
The duties on a private citizen are different than the duties on a business owner. Because a business owner makes money from pedestrians coming onto their property, the law places a higher duty on them. If a business owner is going to open their doors to the public to make a living, they have to make certain that their property is as safe as it can be for those customers.
The Wisconsin legislature has long ago enacted what is commonly called the “Safe Place Statutes.” They require a business owner to do what is reasonably necessary to keep their property as safe as its nature would reasonably permit. This typically includes paying attention to the weather, shoveling and plowing snow and, if necessary, putting down salt. The duties typically can include putting down salt before an ice event so that it can work to prevent ice from forming.
If a business owner fails to take the reasonable steps, they violate the Safe Place Statute and can be held liable for injuries caused by a fall.
In my many years of practice, I have had hundreds of situations where clients, despite their best efforts at walking carefully, suffer a fall. Some of these falls have resulted in very serious injuries.
If you are injured in such a fall, there are some steps that should be taken to protect your rights. First, determine exactly what caused you to fall. Was it snow? Was there ice under the snow? If so, how big was the area of ice, and what type of ice was it. We have all seen “black ice” and are aware of the particular dangers associated with it.
If possible, have a picture taken of the area of the fall. Documenting what was there in this fashion is extremely valuable. Given the prevalence of cell phones with cameras, taking a picture of the surrounding typically is easy.
It is also important to report the fall to the business owner as soon as possible. Typically a business will have an accident report form available. This form should be completed in its entirety.
In addition, reporting the fall to a business owner also gives the owner the opportunity to remedy the slippery condition. This could prevent further falls.
It is also important to think carefully about exactly how the fall occurred. If a claim is presented, quite often the injured party will be called upon to describe precisely what happened. This description can include: What was being worn at the time? What was being carried, if anything, at the time? Which foot had the most weight at the time of the slip? Was the person stepping with the right or the left foot when the slip occurred? Were both feet on the ground or was one in the air stepping forward at the time? Did one or both feet slip? Which way did the feet slip? Which way did the body fall? What part of the body struck the ground first? Finally, what was landed upon? Was it snow, ice, or something else? Attempt to get the names of any witnesses.
While the severity of the injury might make doing all of these things difficult initially, going through this process as soon as possible after a fall is important.
Ideally, if the person falling is with someone at the time, that individual can do many of these things. In addition, most often a passerby will come to the aid of an individual who has fallen and having difficulty. Typically, it is not unusual for a passerby to be the one who reports the fall to the business owner. If a person is injured in the fall, it can be difficult to get up and move into the building to make this report.
If medical treatment is obtained, it is important to describe the fall in as much detail as possible. This will be in your medical records, which will further support the claim. It is also important to fully and accurately describe the injuries and pain caused by the fall. This, too, will get into the records, which will further help support the claim.
Finally, winter fall cases are difficult. The falling individual will also be considered partially at fault. How these matters play out after an injury will have a significant effect on whether a claim can be successfully pursued. Therefore, it is particularly important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Having good representation can make certain that the claim proceeds as smoothly as possible to a successful conclusion.
For further information contact:
Attorney Michael Bertling
McLario, Helm, Bertling & Spiegel, S.C.
N88 W16783 Main St.
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051-2890
(262) 251-4210 (Phone)
(262) 251-5549 (Fax)