Consumer watch: The New Year heralds an increase in icy accidents

The passing of Christmas and New Year often lulls people into a false sense of optimism that the worst of winter is over when, in fact, meteorologically and statistically, January and February are likely to be more lethal than December.

The passing of Christmas and New Year often lulls people into a false sense of optimism that the worst of winter is over when, in fact, meteorologically and statistically, January and February are likely to be more lethal than December.

Even though we haven’t seen the freezing conditions experienced last winter, it is not too late for a cold snap to hit.

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Which is why at this time of year, more callers than usual to lawyers’ offices arrive hobbling on crutches or with an arm cast in plaster – a not exaggerated assertion, because slip and trip accidents make up approximately a third of injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive.

Some slip and trip accidents arise due to unforeseeable circumstances for which no one can genuinely be blamed, but there are also many cases in which liability can be placed upon an organisation or other individual, in which case a personal injury claim may be valid.

While some claimants do try to play up the effects of a slip or trip with all the skill of a Premier League footballer taking a “dive” in the penalty box, it seems only fair that genuinely innocent victims should receive compensation to cover pain and suffering and to recover any general damages (such as loss of earnings or medical treatment).

There are, however, circumstances in which people with genuine injuries may still have a claim refused. This raises the – for some – daunting decision of whether or not to go to court with the prospect of losing altogether or any compensation awarded being significantly lower than anticipated. A not untypical example would be someone tripping over a badly maintained pavement – but being held partly responsible because his or her attention had wandered (through texting on a mobile phone, perhaps).

How prominently warning signs – if any – were placed would probably be another crucial factor.

Claims relating to slips on ice have failed because the party responsible for a stretch of road or pavement has argued, successfully, that there had not been sufficient time to lay gritting and the injured person should have taken greater care as a result.

A similar argument has been made regarding accidents which occur when the victims are “safely” indoors – tripping over wires at work or slipping on a spillage of food on a restaurant floor.

There have been many instances of successful claims against retailers, particularly supermarkets, after customers slipped on a wet floor. However, a retailer might not be held responsible if the floor had become slippery as a result of water transported inside the premises by a customer’s shoes or boots after unexpected rain. In other words, there was insufficient time for the management to take precautions.

In all instances, however, it is essential that the injured party seeks immediate medical assistance – not just for their own personal reassurance but also for any injury to be verified by a medical professional. Once that’s done, a personal injury lawyer will advise on how to proceed.

Unless under the age of 16 at the time of the accident, people must lodge a claim within three years for it to be considered.

• Richard Godden is a partner with the law firm McKay Norwell WS.