Winter weather brings increased risks

As the winter approaches and the weather gets colder, the presence of snow and ice can lead to increased risk of injury. Tripping and slipping accidents become more commonplace. If an accident occurs on commercial premises then the occupiers of the premises may be held liable.

If you visit a shop or commercial premises you are considered a "lawful visitor" and shop-keepers or business "occupiers" have a legal duty to ensure that all visitors to the premises are reasonably safe and the risks of sustaining injury are kept to a minimum.

An "Occupier" is any person with a degree of control of any premises to which a visitor is invited. More than one person at a time can have the status of an occupier. For example, a landlord can be occupier as can the tenant of a rented property.

The "Premises" includes not only buildings and houses but the entirety of the land within the occupier's control. Premises also includes moveable structures such as vehicles, railway carriages and aircraft.

If a slipping or tripping accident occurs whilst you are a visitor to commercial premises then you are entitled to pursue a claim for your injuries if you believe the occupier has failed in his duty of care towards you.

In winter, an occupier may see their premises frozen or covered in snow. Their duty requires them to take reasonable steps to make the premises safe to access. The key question is often to determine what is reasonably safe and this depends on the degree of risk to visitors and the number of visitors likely to enter. By merely placing a warning sign to warn visitors of the danger of slipping does not necessarily mean that the occupier has taken all reasonable steps. He may still be liable for any injury sustained.

Consideration must also be made for more vulnerable visitors such as children, disabled persons and the elderly. For occupiers of larger premises such as large supermarkets or shops then they will require a winter policy to ensure that risks of slipping in bad weather such as snow or ice are considered. They need to take steps to ensure that all visitors are as reasonably safe as possible - this may extend to gritting or salting paths, exits, entrances, outdoor areas etc.

Katherine Knapman, Paralegal at Trethowans says "if you slip or trip on snow or ice when visiting commercial premises then you may have a potential personal injury claim against the occupier of the premises which should be investigated by a solicitor on your behalf".