With winter fast approaching in Yakima, pedestrians soon face a daunting task—traversing one of the city’s icy sidewalks after a snowstorm. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of people each year slip and fall on ice while walking on sidewalks, some of whom sustain serious injuries.
Determining legal liability in these cases can be complicated. You should meet with a Yakima slip and fall attorney to understand how the law will apply to your case.
Sidewalks are the Responsibility of Property Owners
Some people assume that the city of Yakima is responsible for sidewalks since everyone walks on them. Just as the government is responsible for keeping roads in a safe condition, people surmise that the government has the same duty with respect to sidewalks.
However, the law changed around 2014. Now, sidewalks are an extension of the property owner’s property. If your property abuts a sidewalk, then you are responsible for the sidewalk as if it were actually part of your land. As a result, property owners must keep sidewalks safe, just as they do their driveways.
According to the city’s municipal code, Chapter 8.88, property owners must “make all reasonable efforts to clear the sidewalks” of snow and ice and to do so in a “prudent” fashion. The Code goes further and sets some detailed requirements:
- Snow should be removed by 9:00 am the day after snowfall
- If it is not realistic to remove the snow, e.g., because it is still falling, then the owner should disperse sand or salt to make the sidewalk reasonably safe. Yakima recommends that you use Calcium Chloride
- Owners cannot put the snow they remove in alleys or other right of ways, such as the street.
- If you live on a corner, also clean the ramp so that people can easily access the sidewalk.
If you are a property owner and do not know what to do, contact a lawyer for assistance.
What You Should Do After a Fall
If you slipped and fell on ice, there are a few things you can do immediately to try and preserve your claim.
If the property owner or occupier did not clean their sidewalk, you might be able to hold them liable for your slip and fall on ice. A property owner should certainly follow the law as laid out in the Yakima municipal code. No matter what, however, you should carefully document the conditions after you slipped and fell on ice.
It’s a good idea to do the following:
- Take pictures of the icy sidewalk. Use your smartphone or ask a bystander to take pictures for you. Make sure that the photo includes a timestamp. If you fell after 9:00 am and the sidewalk had not been cleaned, this could indicate clear liability.
- Obtain the name of any witnesses to the fall. Get their contact information
- Notify the owner of the property adjacent to the sidewalk where you slipped. They are probably the party responsible for keeping it clean. You should also get the name of their homeowner’s insurer.
- If you slip in front of an apartment building, you should find out the name of the landlord and/or the property management company.
Finally, make sure to get immediate medical treatment. Prompt treatment not only improves your chances of making a speedy recovery, but it can also document the severity of your injuries, which might prove critical later on.
Legal Liability Depends on the Owner’s Carefulness
Let’s assume that a property owner comes out after a storm and does a mediocre job cleaning the sidewalk. Snow and ice still remain, though the owner has thrown a handful of salt or sand around before going back inside.
In another case, imagine that the property owner hires a company to handle their snow cleanup for them. But, the company doesn’t do a good job and the sidewalk is still in a hazardous condition when they leave.
Although in each of these cases the property owner made an attempt to follow the municipal code, they were not sufficiently careful. Remember, the law requires that owners make “reasonable” efforts and remove the snow in a “prudent” manner. If a case like this went to court, the court would analyze whether the owner’s conduct was reasonable. In other words, did they check to see if the sidewalk was clear of snow? Did they behave as another reasonable landowner in their position would have?
In many cases, the dispute revolves around whether the landowner used sufficient care when cleaning the sidewalk. It is not enough for them to scrape off a little snow and call it a day.
Determining whether an owner has been sufficiently careful turns on the specific facts of your case. Meet with a Yakima slip and fall attorney for help analyzing your claim.
Comparative Negligence For Slip and Fall On Ice Lawsuits in Washington
If a landowner wasn’t exercising reasonable care with regard to cleaning their sidewalk, they might be liable for your accident. However, this does not mean that they will always pay 100% of your damages.
The public also has a duty to exercise reasonable care. Especially in circumstances where people know or should expect there to be ice, acting with reasonable care is critical.
In fact, in Washington, if you have not acted with reasonable care in a slip and fall on ice lawsuit, your recovery may be diminished.
Washington is a comparative negligence state. This means that if you take a landowner to court for a slip and fall on ice lawsuit, they will argue that you had some responsibility in your accident.
Luckily, having some responsibility doesn’t mean that you won’t receive any recovery. However, it does mean that the percentage of your fault will diminish your recovery. In other words, if you were 40% at fault for your accident, you would only be able to recover 60% of the available damages.
How might a landowner show that you had some responsibility when you slipped and fell on ice on their sidewalk? They may try to argue that you weren’t paying attention when you were walking. They could also say, if true, that the sidewalk was sectioned off with cones and signs, and that you should have avoided it.
Even if your case doesn’t go to court, the other side will likely argue comparative negligence in settlement negotiations. Much of the time, settlement negotiations in slip and fall cases involve the landowner’s insurance company. They will undoubtedly try the blame on you.
It’s imperative to have an experienced slip and fall attorney on your side before you deal with the landowner or their insurance company.
Proving a Slip and Fall Claim In Yakima
Proving liability for slip and fall on ice lawsuit in Yakima means proving the elements of negligence. Although several circumstances could lead to you slipping and falling on ice, the elements that will need to be shown for the claim are always the same.
The four elements of negligence are as follows:
- The landowner owed you a duty of care. This can be difficult to prove, depending on the type of landowner. For example, if you slipped on a commercial property and you were there as a customer, you are generally owed a duty of care. But if you were trespassing on someone else’s property, proving the duty of care could be much more complicated.
- The landowner violated the duty of care. To show this, you need to show that the landlord didn’t conform to the duty they owed you.
- Because of the landlord’s violation of the duty of care, you were injured. Your injury must have come from the landlord’s breach of their duty to you.
- You suffered damages. Damages can be shown through the expenses you incurred because of your slip and fall, such as hospital bills or lost wages.
The evidence you gathered at the scene of your slip and fall will help prove the elements of negligence.
The Statute of Limitations for Slip and Fall Accidents in Washington
In all states, you only have a certain amount of time to bring legal claims. The amount of time depends on what the legal claim is based on. If you don’t file within the amount of time the law allows, you could lose your ability to recover forever.
In the state of Washington, you generally have three years from the date of your accident to file a slip and fall on ice lawsuit. This three-year statute of limitations is the same for all personal injury claims in Washington.
In some instances, the statute of limitations may be “tolled.” This means that the clock for filing the claim doesn’t start running until a particular event happens. It’s essential to speak to an experienced slip and fall attorney in Washington to understand these details.
Compensation Available for a Slip and Fall Case
Depending on the severity of your injury, there are several different types of compensation which may be available to you as a result of your slip and fall on ice lawsuit:
- Medical expenses and future medical expenses to cover the cost of treating your injury, as well as your recovery
- The cost of any long-term rehabilitation you may be facing
- The cost of hiring help or making changes to your living space, if the injury is severe
- Lost wages for your inability to work
- Pain and suffering or other emotional damages
What to Expect in a Slip and Fall on Ice Settlement Negotiation
It’s relatively rare for slip and fall cases to go to trial. Instead, it’s more likely that your slip and fall case will settle. Often, the defendant does not want to go to trial because it is expensive, and they could potentially lose a lot of money. As a plaintiff, you may also not wish to go to trial because it is quite time-consuming. A settlement is often the best way to get the money that you deserve quickly and efficiently.
Usually, you or your attorney will send an initial demand letter outlining your claims. Often, the party that will respond is not the defendant but the defendant’s insurance company. This is because these are the exact types of claims insurance covers. The insurance company may send back a very lowball offer. It is at that point that settlement negotiations truly begin.
It’s never a good idea to try to handle the insurance company alone. They will try to pin the blame on you. They will also try to give you as little money as possible.
Instead, if you think you have a slip and fall claim, contact an experienced Yakima personal injury attorney for help.
Contact Kapuza Lighty Today
If you slip and fall on ice while on someone’s sidewalk, you could be facing staggering medical bills and forced time off from work. Fortunately, help is available. At our law firm, we have extensive experience in premises liability, including injuries on sidewalks. To speak with one of our Yakima slip and fall lawyers, please contact us to schedule your free consultation by calling 509-866-4166.
Avoid delay. Washington law gives injured pedestrians a short window of time to protect their legal rights.