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Clarification of law of accidents on ice

Clarification of law of accidents on ice

Discussion on The Legal Column with Dil Wickramasinghe and Brian O'Reilly

Dil asks "there has been a lot of confusion about legal responsibility for injuries caused by people slipping on ice and snow. What is the law on the subject"?

 

Brian answers: We have had a number of enquiries to our office from clients asking that very question  "Who is responsible if they are injured if they have an accident on an icy road or footpath?". And there's a lot of confusion caused mainly by conflicting statements made by government ministers

 

Legal responsibility depends on whether the icy area in which the accident happened is a public place owned by the local council or in a public place privately owned by a business (such as a shopping centre footpath or pub car park etc).

 

Regarding the responsibility of the council – a local authority is not responsible for acts of “non-feasance” – that is simple inaction by the council where it does nothing. Councils that do not grit footpaths or roads can therefore avoid responsibility for injury which is effectively caused by their neglect. The position is slightly less clear where a council does grit an area but doesn’t do it properly. This is an act of mis-feasance for which the council may be responsible if an accident happens.

 

In relation to other public areas, if a property owner sees that there is a danger (obvious if people are walking on icy footpaths around (say) a shopping centre) the owners, as occupiers are obliged to take reasonable steps to make the area safe. This does not mean that the owners must start gritting or clearing snow during a blizzard but they must take steps to make the area safe as soon as is reasonably possible after the snow fall or overnight freeze. If they do not and a customer slips and falls breaking a bone then the owners may be legally responsible. The normal rules of Occupiers’ Liability apply.

The issues raised in the answer to this NewsTalk listener's question are dealt with in a general way as can only be the case on live radio. Before relying on the advice given in this answer, whether you heard the broadcast or are for the first time reading the issues here please do not rely on the broad advice given. For a detailed professional opinion please consult a qualified legal advisor and for further details read our disclaimer on the Home Page.

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