Winter themed liability case studies

Lessons can be learned to avoid terrible accidents from happening.

A Mid-winter’s Tale

Some of us really look forward to the spectacle of winter summed up in that Johnny Mathis classic 'Winter Wonderland' -

Sleigh bells ring, are
you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

On the flip side, or should I say the slip and trip side, winter poses a number of problems for us all in ensuring we don’t expose ourselves to avoidable claims.

The following are examples of two claims Covéa Insurance has dealt with involving slips and trips in winter with different outcomes.

Case 1 – Our insured owned a pub restaurant in Scotland. It was one of the most severe winters on record, such that local salt and grit supplies had been exhausted. The insured arranged for a local farmer to clear the car park of snow during the day. In the evening an independent supplier was delivering goods to the pub as requested when he slipped on ice in the car park, falling heavily and resulting in paraplegia, a life changing injury.

Our insured’s account of their procedures and efforts to keep the car park clear and safe were unfortunately, not well documented. The lighting of the car park was also an issue and primary liability was conceded. The claimant, however, was wearing leather soled shoes at the time of the accident which contributed to the risk. Such a horrific incident could have been avoided by following correct protocol and taking preventative action beforehand, such as addressing the lighting situation, ensuring the car park was correctly gritted and at the appropriate time. Signs advising visitors of the potential hazard could also have resulted in the claimant steering clear of particularly dangerous areas. For more tips and advice about reducing winter liability, click here.

Case 2 – The claimant, a nursery worker slipped at work on a frost covered area of decking. On this occasion the insured’s excellent record keeping in terms of training, risk assessments and safety procedures helped to protect them. Again, this type of accident could have been prevented as unfortunately the employee had not adhered to her training which included checking the area was frost free, and making certain she was wearing the correct outside footwear. Additionally, another employee was laying grit leading up to the decking area at the time, where it was clearly marked not to set foot on the area for a duration of time.

Conclusions - Whilst the above cases are similar they are also very different. One was a public liability claim involving a visitor to the customer’s premises, the other an employer’s liability claim. Their outcomes were determined by the degree of proactive risk assessments, record keeping, and training and clear safety procedures.

So if you want to protect your business against the perils of winter you should think about creating a Cold Weather Policy and then take steps to ensure the policy is followed – training on implementation and use of the policy. There needs to be a clear understanding of who is responsible for doing what the policy requires. Put in place checklists to include action on arriving at the premises to reduce the risks of slips, trips and falls due to snow or ice. Proactively review weather forecasts, consider appropriate signage and ensure you always have a good supply of salt or grit to deploy. It’s not rocket science. It’s about balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control it.

“Simple mistakes can shatter lives. Your actions could stop them happening. You might think you’re doing everything to prevent slips, trips and falls in your workplace, but everyone could do a lot more.” HSE

Here’s to walking safely in a winter wonderland.




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