Ice - what Duty do we Owe our Visitors

When the weather turns icy all sorts of hazards start to present themselves, such as treacherous pavements and car parks, so when BBC Radio Shropshire invited me along to give my views on situations were people may be hurt as a result of slipping on icy surfaces, I was delighted to accept.

First of all, it had come to our attention that a footbridge in Telford that had not been gritted and, as a result, an individual had slipped.  The response from the council was that they could not possibly grit every single road and footpath and it was not their policy to grit that particular bridge.  I advised, if the injured party wished to pursue a claim, they would need to show that the council failed to operate an adequate system of gritting.  I do have some sympathy with the council and indeed, they cannot be expected to perform miracles in the winter months.  However, the crucial question is whether it was reasonable to not grit that particular bridge?  My advice would have to be, get some legal advice.  A solicitor would be able to request the necessary documents from the council, in order to consider whether their policy was a reasonable one.

The next question was “what duty does a pub landlord owe to his customers when it comes to the pub car park?”  A pub landlord owes a duty to all his visitors to ensure their safety as is reasonable, in all the circumstances.  This duty is found in the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.  Again, what is reasonable is a matter to be considered in the light of the circumstances of each case.  However, the duty imposed on him will be greater than the duty imposed on the average man in his home (of which see below).  A pub landlord may well be liable if one of his customers slips and breaks their wrist on his icy car park.  The more he does to reduce that risk, the less likely it is that he will be found liable.  Good practice would be for all publicans to keep an eye on the forecast, keep a good supply of grit/salt and put up warning signs.  Out of interest, we have gritted the area outside of our office and this has proved very effective.
Finally, as individuals what duty do we owe to our postman?  We could well be liable if the postman slips on our drive and injures himself.  We all owe a duty to visitors to our homes.  However, this duty is not as high as that imposed on a pub landlord (above).  We must do what is reasonable in the circumstances.  For example, if the milkman arrives at 5am and there has been a heavy snowfall, it is not reasonable to expect we get up to ensure our drive is free of snow and ice before he comes.  However, if you invite lots of people to a New Years Eve party, and you know it could freeze or snow, it would be very sensible to warn your guests to be careful, and to do what you can to reduce the risk of falls. This may well mean putting down some salt before the revellers arrive.

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