Walking is a necessity to get from point A to B. Walking is also a great way to keep fit. It can also be very hazardous during the winter weather. Freezing rain, hard packed snow and black ice can be a hazard for pedestrians, regardless of your age or fitness level. While many slip and fall accidents only result in bruises or embarrassment, an unlucky misstep can result in broken bones, head injuries, or worse.
A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision affirmed Canadians’ right to sue municipalities for unsafe snow removal practices, but the path to compensation is not easy. For instance, recent legislative changes in Ontario’s Bill 118 – Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act, 2020 have introduced new barriers to potential lawsuits by people who have been injured in a fall. People who have experienced a slip and fall accident on an icy or poorly-cleared property now only have 60 days from the day the accident occurred to notify the people or companies who are responsible. (It is important to note that the window to notify in writing of a slip and fall injury on property including sidewalks and road allowance areas owned by the City of Toronto or any other municipality remains 10 days, as per s. 44 (10) of the Municipal Act.)
These new rules and regulations were primarily designed to protect snow removal operators and property owners, so accident victims need to act quickly and work with an experienced personal injury lawyer to serve written notice in time to all possible defendants.
Most people would agree that it is better to avoid an accident in the first place. Here are a few tips to make your winter walking safer and easier:
Always wear proper winter footwear. Your boots should be warm, weather-rated and waterproof. The soles should be non-slip, with wide and lightweight heels and insoles. Throw out any boots with worn-out treads.
If you are walking for fitness, use a pair of walking sticks or even ski poles for extra stability. People with walking disabilities should consider using a cane with a retractable ice pick at the end, which can be purchased at many drug stores. The elderly should consider wearing a hip protector which is a lightweight belt, or pants that will protect one’s hips should a fall occur. Consider walking indoors – many shopping malls encourage indoor fitness walking and some even offer social walking group times.
Be sure to wear bright colours with reflective materials if walking at night. Always wear a warm hat, and mittens or gloves. Dressing in layers is also helpful to keep warm.
When walking on ice, slow down and stabilize yourself by walking with your feet shoulder-width apart to provide support. Keep your knees bent a bit to lower your center of gravity. Place your whole foot flat on the ice and move your weight slowly from foot to foot. In very slippery conditions, drag or shuffle your feet if this feels safer. Reducing your stride will lower the likelihood of losing your balance.
Homeowners should remove snow and ice from their drive-ways, walk-ways and any sidewalks on their property. Report any sidewalks or pathways that are not maintained to your municipality or the property owner.
Is it of course better to avoid ice if you can. Always be aware of your walking route and look ahead for potential tripping hazards or slippery ice patches. Be sure that someone knows your planned path and expected time of return. Bring a mobile phone if you have one, but do not use it while you are walking as it will be a distraction. Pay attention! Just one fall can leave you with pain and sometimes serious injuries that can affect you for the rest of your life, so walk with care this winter.
Michael Henry is a founding partner of Howie, Sacks & Henry. He practises personal injury law, with an emphasis on slip and fall injury and recreation/sports injury claims, as well as claims related to motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents, boating accidents and more. If you have been injured while walking or running, please contact Michael Henry at 416-361-0998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.