Gritting and Slipping in Icy Conditions - who is responsible?

05 September 2012

Worthingtons Solicitors advise on who has responsibility for gritting roads and pavements, and what the legal implications are for those who undertake this task themselves.

With winter weather in recent years having plummeted as low as -20°C, many people have concerns about treacherous conditions and the gritting of roads and pavements.  Nikki McConnell addresses the question of who has overall responsibility for gritting roads and pavements and whether those who decide to clear snow and ice themselves can be held legally liable for any resulting accidents.

The authority responsible for salting/gritting in Northern Ireland is the Department for Regional Development (DRD), incorporating the Roads Service. You may have recently received literature from the DRD in the post which advises as to its commitments and functions. If the DRD were to breach their duty of care to the public; for example by overlooking the gritting of a major route, then it could be subject to a negligence action. It should be remembered however that gritting a road does not imply any guarantee from the DRD that the road surface is entirely safe for normal driving. Although the DRD pledges to focus on important routes carrying over 80% of traffic, it should be borne in mind that to grit every single road in the country is of course an impossible task.

There is no specific law prohibiting you from clearing snow/ice from your driveway or other public areas. As with any case of negligence, the elements of damage/loss to the claimant; fault; and causation would have to be established.  It is prudent to take care clearing ice and snow and be wary of the creation of a new hazard through your actions.  However, the Attorney General of Northern Ireland has advised that if you clear snow/ice carefully you are unlikely to be held liable, and therefore claims would probably only be taken where the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions fell notably below the standards of the reasonable man.  Legislation provides that occupiers of shops, offices, car parks and the like have a greater obligation to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances.

In summary – whether on roads; walkways; or in public places – be careful this winter!  Should you find yourself in circumstances in which you are affected by any of these issues, it is important to seek legal advice at an early stage.

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