By Matt Lalande in Slip and Falls on December 05, 2021
In Ontario, the winter season can be unpredictable and unexpected. One minute the weather may seem mild with the sun shining brightly, but within hours you could end up stuck in a blizzard with low visibility. However, the one consistent thing year after year is the elevated risk of slip and falls due to the hazards that come with winter weather conditions.
Slip and fall accidents are among the most common types of personal injury claims in Ontario, and the leading cause of traumatic spinal cord injury. They can also lead to other catastrophic injuries, including broken bones, hip fractures, head and neck injuries, and traumatic brain injury. As seasoned personal injury lawyers, we have seen too many victims of slip and fall accidents experience severe and catastrophic consequences due to someone else’s terrible mistake.
You cannot control when someone else is going to act out of negligence for your safety, but you can take extra precautions to protect yourself in the winter months. Following proper safety tips in the winter can increase your chances of avoiding a slip and fall accident that could leave you severely injured.
1. Watch Where You’re Going
Whenever you walk anywhere outside, be on alert for any hazards in your path, including patches of ice, uneven curbs or sidewalks, potholes, and hidden debris. If you live in an urban area, be alert when walking over sewer grates or steam vents on the sidewalk. They may look dry at first glance, but these items can be exceptionally slippery after it rains, snows, or hails.
Black ice is another winter weather threat that can wreak havoc on both drivers and pedestrians. It is very dangerous because it’s so thin and transparent, making it difficult to spot, and it generally forms after a fluctuation in temperature so you may not be expecting it when you’re out walking. If you see a questionable patch that may be icy, test it with one of your feet first.
Try to stick to public sidewalks and main paths, and avoid taking self-made shortcuts or trails that may not be regularly maintained. It may take a little longer to get where you’re going, but public roads and main paths are more likely to be shoveled and salted, and therefore less dangerous to walk along.
2. Keep Your Hands Free
It may be tempting to walk with your hands in your pockets to keep them warm, but this can pose an increased risk as it places limitations on your balance. Keeping your hands free can also help you prevent a major injury in the event that you do slip and fall as you can adequately brace for the impact. Wherever possible, try to avoid texting while walking.
Avoid carrying multiple items and large objects at one time that may limit your ability to see where you’re walking. If you do need to carry multiple items, consider using a backpack. Wearing a backpack can help you maintain your balance by keeping the load closer to your centre of gravity, while leaving your hands free at the same time.
3. Wear Appropriate Winter Clothing
Proper footwear is important anytime you leave your home in the winter. It may be tempting to wear fashionable winter boots that keep your feet warm but leave little in the way of traction, but this type of footwear puts you at an increased risk of slipping and falling on ice. Just as you would not drive in the winter with bald tires, you should not be wearing winter footwear that does not have grip or treads. No matter how short a distance you may be travelling, proper footwear could be the difference between an uneventful walk and a life-changing fall.
Warm and protective accessories are important as well. For example, wearing warm gloves can eliminate the temptation to put your hands in your pockets, while wearing thicker pants may reduce the need to walk briskly to get where you’re going and out of the cold faster. Additionally, if you do fall and suffer a serious injury, wearing warm and protective clothing will prevent you from catching pneumonia, frostbite, or hypothermia while waiting for emergency services to arrive.
It can also be helpful to wear indoor footwear, such as slippers with grip on the bottom, to avoid slipping on any water you may have tracked in from outside. Melted snow from your winter boots can leave slippery puddles on the floor, and you may not be inclined to look out for this once you are indoors.
4. Plan Ahead and Leave Early to Avoid Rushing
When you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, it can be difficult to remind yourself to take it slow while walking or getting out of your vehicle. Leaving yourself more time to get to your destination takes away the pressure of being in a rush and allows you to take time you need to accommodate safe travelling. This is also important to remember when driving anywhere in a motor vehicle, as you will need the extra time to clear the snow from your vehicle and drive cautiously on hazardous roads.
If you need to cross a patch of ice, walk in a penguin-like shuffle instead of taking longer strides even though it will take more time to get across the ice. When you get out of a vehicle, take slow steps and check the ground before you continue walking.
5. Shovel and Salt Your Property
Removing snow and salting ice on your property is essential in order to keep yourself and members of your community safe.
Under the Ontario’s Occupiers’ Liability Act, residents in Ontario are required to provide a duty of care for those on their property by removing any hazards that could lead to personal injury. Each city and municipality has its own bylaws that require property owners and business operators to remove snow and ice within a certain amount of time after a snowfall. In Hamilton, for example, by-law 03-296 dictates that snow must be removed from a property within 24 hours after the end of a snowfall. Violators could face fines of up to $5,000.
If you do slip and fall and suffer a severe injury on someone else’s property, recent changes to the Act in December 2020 require all claimants to provide notice to the occupier within 60 days. Therefore, it is imperative that you seek medical and legal assistance immediately after experiencing a slip and fall accident.
In the winter months, everyone is expected to do their part in upholding the duty of care to other citizens by exercising caution, maintaining property, and preventing safety risks. When someone else does not hold up their end of the deal and causes you extreme pain and suffering, you have every right to hold them accountable in a slip and fall personal injury claim.
Matt Lalande has been practicing law in Ontario since 2003, and has helped hundreds of clients across the province receive proper and fair compensation for their life-changing injuries. Book a consultation where we will go over your options with you and give you the best possible solution that will bring you some peace of mind as you recover.