It’s a wintry day in Connecticut. You’re trudging along and watching your footing. An instant later, everything becomes a blur, you’re on your back and staring at the sky. As you regain your bearings, you realize there is something wrong with your arm. This scenario plays out thousands of times every winter. Slip and fall incidents can range from annoyances to life-changing events. With senior citizens, a fall in these conditions may necessitate a hip replacement and months of rehabilitation. For anyone, the consequences of a severe slip and fall incident make it worthwhile to learn what it takes to gain compensation for injuries and other costs.
Understand the Law
A basic understanding of Connecticut law can help you chart your way forward. With wintertime falls, four concepts spell out the rights and responsibilities of the involved parties.
Reasonable Care Duties
To prevail in a slip and fall case, you must be able to prove that the party responsible for the area where you fell was negligent. Negligence means the failure to exercise reasonable care. With a winter-related slip and fall incident, reasonable care means removing snow and making icy areas safe for pedestrians.
Reasonable care is a two-way street. Just as property owners must deal with snow and ice promptly, pedestrians also have a reasonable care duty. Wearing appropriate footwear and walking at a sensible pace factor into reasonable care. Staring into a smartphone while walking in wintry conditions falls short of this standard. Likewise, runners and bicyclists knowingly assume more risk in wintry conditions. Nonetheless, in a trial, reasonable care always boils down to a call by a judge or jury.
The Comparative Negligence Rule
Because both pedestrians and property owners have reasonable care duties, Connecticut law includes the modified comparative negligence rule. Assume that a jury determines that a property owner’s negligence led to your fall, but also finds that you did not fully live up to your reasonable care duty. In this case, the jury can assign you a percentage of responsibility for the fall. This percentage will reduce damages you would have received if the property owner were entirely responsible.
As long as the jury keeps your negligence below 50%, you can collect some compensation. This rule comes into play even if your case never makes it to trial. In settlement negotiations, attorneys for both sides will wargame their best estimate of how a prospective jury will assign responsibility.
The Statute of Limitations
You have a time window for filing a lawsuit against the owner or manager of a property where you slipped and fell, and this rule is known as the statute of limitations. Connecticut’s statute provides two years, and the clock starts running on the day of your fall. Even with the seemingly generous two-year period, prompt action moves the odds of a favorable settlement in your favor.
The Role of Local Ordinances
While snow removal is part of a property owner’s reasonable care duty, how is this responsibility pinned down for municipally owned residential sidewalks? The answer lies in local ordinances. Connecticut state law allows municipalities to push the duty for sidewalk snow removal onto abutting property owners and managers. Large or small, nearly every municipality in the state has enacted such an ordinance.
Because snow removal during an active storm is futile, the ordinances set their deadlines after the storm’s cessation. While all of these ordinances are similar, there are subtle differences from town to town. These ordinances are a balancing act between the imperative of sidewalk safety and citizens’ legitimate need to earn a living.
Here’s how some prominent communities set their snow and ice removal deadlines after a snowfall ends:
- Hartford: Six hours after cessation or three hours after sunrise for a nighttime snowfall
- New Haven: 24 hours
- Danbury: Four daylight hours
- Bristol: 12 hours for storms ending between 3:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and nine hours for storms ending between 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.
- New Britain: Six daylight hours
- Manchester: 24 hours
- West Hartford: The latter of 12 hours after cessation or 12 hours after sunrise
With each municipality imposing different rules, your chances of prevailing in a lawsuit may hinge on where your fall took place. While suffering a serious fall after a local deadline significantly improves your chances of prevailing in your claim, the time limits are not a free pass for property owners to dawdle on ice treatment. Even if you suffer a fall before a local deadline, you may want to contact a personal injury attorney.
Take These Steps After a Fall
With some basic law concepts in hand, you can boost your odds of fair compensation with these concrete actions.
Document the Scene
If you have a smartphone and your injuries permit, it is wise to photograph the area where you fell. Snap the precise spot where you fell and surrounding areas, paying particular attention to places with inadequate snow or ice removal. If the fall damaged an expensive item you were carrying, record the results. If you tore your clothing or picked up a wet spot in the fall, photograph those areas. If you believe your injury is severe enough to pursue a claim, put your clothing in a plastic bag instead of washing these items. Were witnesses present? Ask them for their contact information.
Seek Medical Attention
Your health is paramount, and seeking prompt medical attention after an injury is plain common sense. Particularly with hand injuries, swift attention can head off lifelong problems. If your head struck the ground or an object in the fall — a frequent occurrence in icy conditions — it is wise to have a doctor evaluate you for a concussion. Take this step even if you think you have shaken off the fall’s after-effect. If your injury is due to a property owner’s negligence, your medical records may help you receive fair compensation.
The diligence you bring to documenting your post-fall expenses improves your chances of fair compensation. These are some prudent steps to take:
- Keep every document of your post-fall medical treatment records.
- Augment your records with a symptom diary.
- If your fall caused contusions, take daily photos of the resulting skin discoloration.
- Keep track of your hours and mileage for medical treatments and physical therapy sessions.
- Record the sick days taken with your employer.
Collect your paper documentation in a single packet. Scanning each page to a PDF computer file will create a searchable database and help you ride herd on the paperwork. Through all these steps, pay special attention to the hours of work you lose. If you were in line for a promotion or a scheduled wage hike, these circumstances properly belong in your damage claim.
Consult a Personal Injury Attorney
The complex issues of wintertime falls build a persuasive case for early consultation with a personal injury attorney. Focus is the universal trait of success, and Gould Injury Law’s focus on personal injury cases sets us apart from other Connecticut law firms. We have a track record of quick results for clients, and our attorneys dedicate themselves to getting you the compensation you deserve. If you have suffered an injury, we invite you to schedule a free consultation today.