If the snow hasn’t arrived yet, it will soon. Protect yourself and your home from potential accidents on snow and ice – and possible liability!
Winter is descending upon us. Brrrrrrrr. And with so many more people staying home instead of heading south this winter, the chances for potential accident and injury associated with snow and ice around our homes are just that much greater.
It’s important to realize that, as a homeowner, you are responsible for the safety of your home and property. To ensure the safety of visitors to your home, it’s up to you to ensure that your sidewalks and other walkways, stairs, and your driveway are kept free and clear of snow and ice.
As the cold weather brings us the stark, sparkly beauty of snow and ice you should be aware of the most common winter hazards that come along with it.
For instance, any walking surfaces around your home need to be managed with salt and/or sand and frequent shovelling when necessary. In many communities, there are bylaw timeframes that dictate when you need to have walkways clear. Be aware of them. Also, evaluate your property for unexpected elevation changes and surface gaps or cracks – uneven sidewalks are a good example. These present the potential for trips and falls so be sure to fix any issues that lie on your property. If you notice issues with municipally-owned land and property, be sure to report them.
At this time of year, as we transition from fall to winter conditions, natural debris such as wet leaves can also present a slipping or tripping hazard. If you have deck- or handrails, be sure that they are in good repair – none are loose or missing – and don’t pose an unexpected danger.
Ensure that all of your exterior lighting is operational and adequately illuminates the surrounding area, including the walking surface.
Don’t forget your indoors at this time of year. Your foyer could pose an unnecessary risk to visitors if your walking surfaces are wet. Prevent the chance of slips or falls in your home with a simple fix – a non-slip mat or rug.
What do I do if an accident happens?
While you’ve taken all the precautions, there’s is still the chance that something unexpected could happen. But, to help protect yourself, here are various steps to take if a snow- or ice-related mishap occurs:
- First, of course, is to provide assistance to the injured individual. Find them the appropriate medical treatment, if needed and certainly, call an ambulance, if required.
- Collect all of the necessary information – names and contact information of both the injured party as well as any witnesses. Be sure to detail everything that happened – descriptions of the incident from the victim, yourself, and any witnesses.
- Be sure to refer the claimant to your insurer. DO NOT ADMIT LIABILITY!
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Take photos of the scene. If you can, take pictures of the injured individual’s footwear.
- Document, document, document. In the event you need to provide a defence for a claim, thorough documentation will assist your insurer to analyze the incident and the potential cause.
- You need to report the incident and details to your insurer. As much as possible, provide:
- Incident details — a thorough description with photos, whenever possible.
- Any information you may have regarding your preventative maintenance preceding the incident. You’ll want to show you were acting responsibly to prevent any issues on your property.
- Thoroughly evaluate your home and property and explore the potential causes. Important: take all necessary steps to ensure you prevent any similar incidents from happening again.
In the event of a mishap… what is my legal liability?
Of course, you’ve tried to manage the winter maintenance of your home and property, particularly walking surfaces, to the best of your ability. But… if something has been missed, or if you’ve been a little late to keep up with a basic standard of seasonal maintenance, depending on the victim, you could be held liable for any trips, slips, or falls due to snow and ice.
If you rent your home, this liability could be shared with the owner of the property, your landlord. It will depend on the circumstances surrounding the incident to determine the ultimate responsibility. When it comes to shared or community space on the property, as the tenant, be sure that your rental agreement outlines very clearly your responsibilities.
Here are factors that will be considered:
- Was this a hazard that could have been foreseen?
- Did the homeowner, in fact, maintain the property according to acceptable standards?
- Had this been a hazard for an unreasonable or extended amount of time?
- Could the hazard have been prevented?
Prevention is key to ensuring your home is safe for everyone who visits – the babysitter, the postal worker, your furnace repairman, visitors to a Holiday gathering, it doesn’t matter who. Be vigilant as you evaluate the conditions and how your property can be kept free of dangers. Maintain your property to the highest safety standards to prevent any unforeseen accidents or mishaps that could lead to costly litigation.