- Snow, Slush, Ice: What to Do if You Get Injured Due to Dangerous Winter Hazards
Snow, Slush, Ice: What to Do if You Get Injured Due to Dangerous Winter Hazards
We probably don’t have to tell you that snow-covered roads, slick sidewalks, slushy mall entrances, and slippery parking lots are on the horizon at this time of year. And with all those treacherous hazards, it’s likely we’ll soon be hearing sirens and seeing ambulances carrying injured Michiganders to clinics and hospitals across the state. So this week we’re focusing on two of the most common causes of painful, wintertime injuries – slip-and-fall accidents, and weather-related highway dangers.
Tripping, Slipping, Falling: Slip-And-Fall Injuries Plague Michigan Winters.
It should come as no surprise that after any significant snowfall or ice storm, our law offices field numerous calls from Michigan residents who find themselves injured by falling on deceptively slippery surfaces. And when people get hurt in such incidents, there may be very solid grounds for filing a personal injury lawsuit. That’s especially true following a recent Michigan Supreme Court decision that makes it more likely that injured parties can successfully sue negligent property owners for failing to ensure the safety of visitors, shoppers, tenants, or others who might come onto their premises. As we noted in an August article, the Court’s determination in the cases of Kandil-El Sayed v F&E Oil, Inc and Pinsky v Kroger Co of Michigan updates state law on liability for injuries from slip-and-fall cases by removing the open and obvious doctrine (which had previously given corporations almost complete immunity for negligence in slip-and-fall cases).
Specifically, this means in cases where an existing hazard on someone’s property leads to an injury, the defendant will no longer be able to use the “open and obvious doctrine” as a defense to show that the person who was injured (the plaintiff) could easily have avoided the danger — simply because it was “open and obvious” for anyone to observe. For instance, if someone walking through a parking lot trips on a pothole and is seriously injured as a result, the defense would argue that a reasonably prudent person would have been able to see and avoid the pothole such that the danger was “open and obvious.” Because walkers could have avoided the danger, the defendants would be able to get off the hook for their negligence — even if they should have acted to prevent the accident from ever happening in the first place by simply repairing the pothole.
This new decision serves to remove the open and obvious doctrine’s de facto immunity for property owners and will allow invitees (meaning anyone legally entitled to be there, such as customers, tenants, salespeople, or other visitors) to those properties to recover for the negligence of the entities or individuals who fail to properly maintain their property. However, this does not mean that every injury suffered will be eligible to receive compensation, nor does it mean that guests no longer have a duty to act reasonably and avoid obvious dangers. It merely means these cases are much more likely to go before a jury than they were formerly.
Sliding, Skidding, Crashing: Winter Highway Accidents Are the Worst in Michigan
As we noted last fall, Michigan is always among the worst – and actually last year it was named the absolute very worst – states for wintertime driving danger. This year, MoneyGeek, which tracks the data, has once again awarded Michigan the dubious honor of being the worst place of all for winter driving accidents in America, this time placing us far “ahead” of less dangerous states – including Alaska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Montana. It’s been that way now for four straight years.
Given those stark statistics, it may pay to prepare ahead for winter driving hazards by stocking your car with a blizzard emergency kit that includes such safety equipment as flashlights, flares, snow shovels, blankets and sand (for traction), and by packing some extra warm coats in the trunk.
Here’s some additional guidance on emergency kit necessities from our fearless leader himself:
The state has also published helpful information on identifying and avoiding frostbite and other cold-weather hazards (including how to prevent yourself from being injured in a fall!) and also provides advice on safe driving practices to follow whenever snow, ice, slush or sleet are present. Last year, more than 4,000 injuries and 85 winter-related deaths were noted across the state according to the Michigan State Police and University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Hopefully the information we’ve provided here will help reduce those tragic statistics for Winter 2023-24.
In the meantime, Michigan’s Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety administration recommend the following steps to maximize safety and minimize danger when you’re on the road during hazardous winter driving conditions:
Basic Emergency Tips for Winter Safety
- Stay with your car. Unless you are within sight of a safe place to go, staying with your car is your safest bet. It’s not only a source of shelter and warmth; it makes it easier for rescuers to find you. Keep your seatbelt on in case another car runs into you while yours is stopped.
- Don’t overexert yourself. Wearing yourself out trying to dig your car out of the snow will cause you to sweat and make it harder to keep yourself warm.
- Call 911 or a roadside service like AAA. Let them know you’re stranded and ask them how long it will take to get to you. If phone service is unavailable, try texting 911 for help. Often a text message will get through when a phone call won’t.
- Make yourself visible. Put bright markers on the car’s radio antenna and/or windows and set out reflective emergency triangles if you have them. Turn on your hazard lights and, if it’s dark, turn your headlights off and your interior dome light on (it uses less electricity than your headlights).
- Don’t run your car for extended periods. If you must run your car’s engine to keep warm, be certain the exhaust pipe is clear of snow, ice or dirt, and check it periodically. Run the vehicle for only 5-10 minutes per hour and be sure to open the windows slightly for ventilation. Keeping the car running continuously could lead to asphyxiation from carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Stay hydrated. Snow (but not the yellow kind!) can be melted to drink if needed.
Helpful Hints for Staying Warm
- Roll up the car windows. When you are not running the engine, keep windows shut tightly to conserve warmth.
- Bundle up. If you have emergency blankets, wrap yourself up. If you have passengers in the car, huddle together to share warmth. No blankets? Use anything you can find to provide extra insulation, including floor mats, newspapers, seat covers, etc.
- Make sure your clothes are dry. Wet, cold clothing will draw the heat from your body and carry it away into the air.
- Put on a hat and mittens. Skin loses more heat wherever it is directly exposed to air.
- Loosen your shoelaces. This will allow blood to circulate to your toes and help you avoid frostbite.
- Light a candle for warmth. Putting candles inside a coffee can, terracotta pot, or even under a tarp can generate a surprising amount of lifesaving heat.
- Shake arms and legs to keep blood flowing to extremities.
- Be alert for signs of hypothermia. If you are feeling sleepy, becoming confused, or shivering uncontrollably, you could be suffering from life-threatening loss of body heat.
- Try to stay awake, if possible. If there are others with you in the car, take turns sleeping. Hypothermia can kill.
Hurt in a Fall? Injured in a Crash? Let Us Help You Recover.
Winter weather can lead to various painful accidents, but it’s not always to blame for them. Sometimes irresponsible drivers are almost entirely the cause of a crash, even when the snow is flying, or the roads are coated with black ice. It’s also easy to be swept from your feet on icy surfaces and hit the ground when you least expect it. So remember – when you’re seriously injured through little or no fault of your own, Michigan law protects your right to sue the guilty party for damages – even though we have No-Fault Insurance! So, if you or someone you love are injured this winter in a slip-and-fall accident or a wintertime crash, we recommend calling us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946). Our dedicated and compassionate teams of auto accident attorneys and premises liability lawyers stand ready to help you receive the most compensation for your injuries permitted by Michigan law. Don’t wait. Contact us by phone or get in touch with us online today.
Content checked by Mike Morse, personal injury attorney with Mike Morse Injury Law Firm. Mike Morse is the founder of Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in Michigan. Since being founded in 1995, Mike Morse Law Firm has grown to 150 employees, served 25,000 clients, and collected more than $1 billion for victims of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents. The main office is in Southfield, MI but you can also find us in Detroit, Sterling Heights and many other locations.