The real ‘nitty gritty’ of snow and ice

Is another big freeze on the way? Will this be another year of solicitors phones ringing off their hooks with the sound of people wanting to bring claims for falling as a result of snow and ice?

Hilary Meredith, Wilmslow based solicitor, gives her views, “Each year the question of whether to grit or not to grit is back on the agenda thanks to the ludicrous laws that put home owners and businesses at risk of being sued if they try to clear them. The fact is we are advised not to grit public paths since if a member of the public assumes that the area is clear of ice and safe to walk on and then slips and injures themselves then this can lead to an action for damages. So basically under current legislation if householders or companies try to clear a public pavement outside their property they open themselves up to legal action but if they leave the path as treacherous then they can’t be sued.

“However to be successful in a claim you would have to show that negligence caused the fall. A local authority for example is only under a duty to ensure pedestrians and road users are not put in danger of snow and ice as far as is practicable. All authorities will have a winter maintenance plan in place. For Cheshire East for example there is a priority route gritting system where ‘A’ class carriageways and designated ambulance routes are gritted first followed by ‘B’ routes (commuter and bus routes) as long as funds are available. Anything after that, forget it!! Councils have to make the decision as to how best they use their resources which often means that side roads and pavements go ungritted. If a person did slip on one of these ungritted roads or pavements it would be difficult to convince a judge of negligence when the local authority has complied with their winter maintenance plan and would argue a lack of budget as their defence.”

“Homeowners are advised not to remove snow from the pavement outside their houses unless they have public liability insurance!! The idea of being sued for trying to help is just absurd!!”

“Businesses should also be wary when asking employees to clear the snow. They must be properly trained to do so since if they fall and slip then they may have a claim against you. Employers should take appropriate measures to clear their car parks, main entrances and exits since failure to take such appropriate measures could result in a claim.”

“The plain fact is that where gritting is concerned the law is unclear and confusing whether you are a local authority, business owner or private individual. It’s a shame we have ended up with a culture where being helpful can cause someone to sue you. People need a bit of grit, in both senses!!!”