It’s that time of year when we worry about ice and snow affecting our homes and businesses.
Clients often ask if they should clear their paths and driveways and if they can be claimed against if someone should slip and hurt themselves. Sadly, there is no definitive answer. Insurance – like the law of the land – relies on being “reasonable” but there is only a very vague definition of that term. If customers can’t get to your business because of snow, then it’s reasonable to clear it away but once you do it, you have to keep doing it. If your actions – or lack of actions – have been reasonable, then you’re unlikely to be held liable. The standard of care is the only degree of prudence and caution required of an individual who is under a duty of care – we all have a duty of care to others in some degree. The requirements of the standard are closely dependent on circumstances.Whether the standard of care has been breached is determined by the court, and is usually phrased in terms of the reasonable person. It was famously described in Vaughn v. Menlove (1837) as whether the individual “proceed[ed] with such reasonable caution as a prudent man (sic) would have exercised under such circumstances”.
If a business sends employees out to clear snow/ice, they must be properly equipped – one claim from a few years ago was due to an employee being given a sheet of cardboard to clear several inches of snow, resulting in a fall and quite serious head injury. Warm clothing and proper footwear are a must. There is another issue with staff in that employers are responsible for them on their journeys to and from work. Have a plan in place for working from home if that is practical. Don’t insist that anyone travels if they have reason to feel unsafe – even if that’s just walking to and from home.
Snow build-up on roofs can be dangerous as the snow may ultimately fall on people or property and may also cause damage to your roof – ice can wriggle between tiles and slates – and/or guttering so best to clear it but only if it can be done safely. If it can’t, then consider warning signs.
Please don’t clear ice away with water as it will just refreeze and then you can be held liable. Where you have gardens or lawns, rock salt can leach into the greenery and damage it. Cat litter – preferably fresh – is good for providing grip underfoot.
So, to sum up, when you decide to do something or even decide not to do something, just ask yourself “am I being reasonable?”