Winter’s Effect on Personal Injury

February 19, 2020 @ 10:46 am

snowflake photo for the effects of winter on personal injury blog

Severe winter weather doesn’t happen often in Louisiana, but when it does, it usually translates into ice. In short, winter here can turn surfaces wet, icy, slippery and treacherous. Roads become dangerous, with transportation accidents being the leading cause of death during winter storms in Louisiana.

However, the danger doesn’t stop with roads. If your personal property or business’ premises are icy, slippery or treacherous, and you fail to ensure your property is safe, you can be held responsible if someone is injured.

Black Ice and Winter Precipitation

While accumulations of snow are white and fairly easy to see, ice can be trickier to spot—especially if it’s black ice (the black referring to how it looks on black pavement). Black ice is not black, but rather transparent, and it reveals the color of whatever it covers. A concrete sidewalk, brick staircase, porch decking, curb or even a welcome mat may simply look wet when in fact it’s encased in a deceptively thin coating of slick ice.

Freezing rain and sleet can form thin sheets of black ice anywhere. Overpasses, bridges, and other elevated or shaded areas are particularly susceptible. Protected places where snow may accumulate, melt and run in the warmth of daytime and then refreeze elsewhere as temperatures drop can also be problematic.

Common Winter Weather Related Injuries

For Pedestrians — Of course, the most common wintertime injuries for pedestrians are slips and falls due to ice or snow that has packed or crusted. Tripping is also a problem when accumulations are sufficient to conceal objects or obstructions along pathways. What appears to be just snow may conceal a rake handle, for example, or a hose, chain, tree branch or root. Combined with fallen leaves or other debris, even light snow accumulations can conceal holes, steps or other uneven surfaces.

For Motorists — With drivers in the South typically unused to wintertime precipitations, sleet, snow and all of the options in between can present unforeseen challenges. Yes, roads become slick, but even getting into a car and getting it ready to drive can require extra time and precautions.

  • Car locks and doors may be frozen over and require the use of a deicer. In parking situations with limited space and passing traffic, it’s a distraction that could put you at risk.
  • Windshields and windows may be covered in sticky snow or a tough sheet of ice that must be removed so that the driver can see without obstruction.
  • Snow and ice can build up and form crusty layers that can be several inches thick on hoods and roofs. These accumulations can become flying blocks of icy snow that can strike other motorists’ vehicles or obstruct their view.

A broom, snow brush and ice scraper offer quick remedies to making sure all surfaces are clear, and failing to use them can leave you liable if your flying debris or inability to see properly causes an accident. The Federal Highway Administration warns that snowy or slushy pavement can reduce speeds on main roads by 30 to 40 percent, and about a quarter of weather-related crashes occurs under snowy, slushy or icy conditions.

For Workers and Businesses — Cold weather and its accompanying precipitation increase workplace hazards significantly. It begins with the basics like snow or ice removal. However, many jobs require that workers perform their tasks as usual despite winter conditions.

  • Surfaces like scaffolding, heavy machinery, ladders and lifts, stacked inventory and other standard pieces of equipment become slick and possibly unstable.
  • Workers unused to frigid, wet conditions may lack the proper shoes, gloves and other safety equipment needed for conditions.
  • Snow, ice dams or attempts to conserve heat can result in well-ventilated areas losing air circulation, increasing the likelihood of problems like exposures to carbon monoxide or other gases, fumes or chemicals.

Facing downtime, deadlines or losses in productivity, employers may make unwise decisions that result in a worker’s weather-related injury. Having weather policies in place as well as simple products like deicers can help to keep workers safe.

Preventing Weather Related Injuries on Your Property

Regardless of whether you’re walking, driving, working or even simply having fun doing something that you enjoy, winter—the cold temperatures, reduced hours of light and freezing precipitation—can result in personal injury incidents. Those slips, trips, falls, crashes, collisions and other unfortunate events can break bones, cause everything from back and neck injuries to traumatic brain injuries. To prevent them from happening to you or others, take reasonable, responsible precautions:

  • Clear snow immediately from walkways and lots, and treat cleared areas with salt to prevent ice from forming.
  • Ensure walkways, stairs and passageways have handrails and railings, and keep them clear from accumulations.
  • Pay attention to roofs and overhangs conducive to sheeting ice or snow or the formation of icicles. Melting precipitation or icicles can drip onto surfaces to form black ice or fall on pedestrians.
  • Clear car windshields, windows, lights and other surfaces completely before driving.
  • Slow driving speeds, and increase driving following distances to suit wet, icy or snowy conditions.
  • Take extra care on bridges and other elevated structures and driving surfaces.
  • Provide drivers and other workers with equipment, tasks and vehicles suited for the winter conditions.
  • Make all entrances, exits and working parts of the building safely accessible for all workers.
  • Maintain safe ventilation in all areas. This includes ensuring that all systems—including heating systems—are functioning properly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

In Need of a Personal Injury Attorney?

In Louisiana, winter is usually short, but when injuries are involved, its effects can last year-long. As the owner of a property—home, plot, car or business—you have the responsibility to keep it safe and well-maintained. As a visitor to a home or place of business, you have the reasonable expectation that you will be safe. When that isn’t the case and something happens, you may need the help of an attorney experienced in addressing the unique problems associated with personal injuries.

At Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Basset & Haik, we’ve experienced Southern winters that alter plans and change lives forever. Whether you’ve suffered harm from winter’s chill or you took every precaution that you could — only to find it wasn’t enough — we want to hear your story. Contact us online, or call us at 1-800-356-6776.