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What to Do if You Fell on an Icy Sidewalk or Driveway

Living in New York City can be wondrous and exciting, but, like all major urban areas, there are hazards that you have to be cognizant of at all times. Besides traffic, there are some risks for which you may not be prepared – or aware. Since New York weather can be brutal at times, especially in the winter, streets can turn icy overnight. So what do you do if you fell on an icy sidewalk or driveway and get hurt?

A slip on a sidewalk or someone’s driveway is part of premises liability law. You can bring a claim for damages against the homeowner under certain conditions, though premises liability law is complex with many issues regarding proof of negligence, comparative fault, and notice.

To claim injuries in a slip and fall on an icy sidewalk or driveway, there are things you can to preserve your claim and give yourself an opportunity to obtain the most compensation available. Besides getting prompt medical attention, you have to be aware of what a slip and fall case requires so that you can collect compensation.

What Constitutes Negligence in a Slip and Fall

Before you have a viable injury claim, you have to show that the other party, or landowner, was negligent. Negligence law has to do with a person or entity exercising reasonable or ordinary care towards others to whom they owe a duty of care.

Property owners have a duty of care to certain persons who are invited onto their premises or who are there lawfully such as meter readers, postal workers, police and fire or delivery persons. These persons are called licensees and are owed a duty by the residence owner to use reasonable care in keeping their property free of hazardous conditions or to warn guests or licensees of their presence.

Their duty of care does not extend to inspecting the property for hazards but to at least warn if they knew or should have known of the hazard. In the case of a slippery sidewalk or driveway, it can be unreasonably dangerous to allow the condition to continue since there is a high potential for people to slip and sustain serious injuries. You have to show that a residential owner using ordinary care would shovel their driveway or area of sidewalk, remove the ice or salt it, or warn persons of the condition.

The Issue of Notice

New York law imparts liability to property owners who have a statutory duty to maintain a sidewalk that abuts their property in a reasonably safe condition. To hold the owner liable, however, you must show that he had direct or constructive notice of the hazard or that it lasted long enough so that he should have been aware. Under New York City ordinances, this requirement is largely codified in certain cases so that the property owner or tenant in charge of the property has 4 hours to clear snow from an abutting sidewalk following a day time snowfall or prior to 5:00 p.m. Should the snow stop after this time, the homeowner has until 11 a.m.

However, if the owner created the condition by having washed a car earlier in the day or having spread water over the adjacent sidewalk or driveway during freezing weather or just before, then the owner’s liability may be more obvious or easier to prove.

If the sidewalk abutted a commercial business, then the owners probably have a higher standard of care and an investigation is needed to explore what steps it took to clear the hazard and when.

Comparative Fault

New York is a pure comparative negligence state. This means that you can be comparatively negligent, or you contributed to the accident or your injuries, by ignoring an obvious hazard or by not being prepared. In most slip and fall cases, the homeowner, insurance agent or defense attorney will invariably assert that you failed to take reasonable care for your own safety by either not wearing proper shoes, not looking where you were going or were aware of the obvious hazard.

For example, if the weather is cold and you knew it just snowed or rained or you knew your neighbor just sprayed water outside in freezing temperatures, then you are on notice. If you ventured out to someone’s house wearing ordinary shoes or decided to run across the driveway, your conduct was likely not that that would be exercised by an ordinary person under similar circumstances. If both you and the landowner were found at fault, your damages would be reduced by your own degree or percentage of fault. 

Evidence in a Slip and Fall Case

With the knowledge that you have to prove that the landowner had reasonable notice of the hazard but failed to exercise ordinary care, you can take certain actions to prove liability:

  • Take photographs of the snow and ice and exact area where you fell or have someone else do it as soon as practicable.
  • Show the time when the snow fell, how much had fallen, the outside temperature and the time of the rainfall, if any. If your accident occurred 4 hours after the last snow or rain during the day or early evening accompanied by a drop in temperature to well below freezing, then you may have a case of liability.
  • Were there witnesses to your fall or who came to your assistance shortly thereafter? They can attest to the icy conditions, amount of snow and temperature or if the snowfall had stopped.
  • Statements by the homeowner. If the homeowner saw you fall, it is possible the individual apologized or said that they should have warned you or that they were going to shovel or take care of the driveway hours ago but forgot to do so. Other people may have heard the homeowner utter something to that effect.
  • You took reasonable care for your own safety. Be prepared to be accused of not looking out for your own safety by walking too fast, not wearing proper footwear or some other conduct that an ordinarily prudent person would not have followed.
  • Medical care and records have to link your injuries to the accident. If you told the ER doctor or medical personnel that you had a minor ankle sprain or that you just injured your leg the previous day, then you have a serious problem showing that the accident was the proximate, or legal, cause of your injuries. If you are not sure of what you injured, then be general about it to the doctor or other medical assistants or EMT personnel and allow a diagnosis to demonstrate it.

In a typical slip and fall case, you will be contacted within a day or so by an insurance adjuster or investigator to take a recorded statement. You can politely state that you are not prepared to give one and immediately contact an experienced premises liability or slip and fall attorney. Too many injury claims are compromised because an injured claimant inadvertently made a comment that minimized the injuries or placed liability in question. Never agree to a giving a statement without having your attorney present.

Retaining a Slip and Fall Attorney

You can obtain reasonable compensation for your slip and fall but be aware of what needs to be proven and what evidence is necessary. Retaining a slip and fall attorney like Justin D. Brandel promptly can help you gather the proof necessary and avoid the pitfalls common in these types of accidents.


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