Massachusetts winters can be long and full of ups and downs. Temperatures can fluctuate dramatically from day to day or even from morning to night. These long winters, changing temperatures, and the snow and ice that come with them lead to dangerous sidewalk conditions for pedestrians such as walkers.
Even without the additional risk factors winter brings for pedestrians, there has been an alarming increase in pedestrian accidents overall. In 2021, pedestrian deaths increased by 30% in Massachusetts. Winter weather conditions affecting sidewalks only increase the risks of serious pedestrian injuries.
If you were injured on a Massachusetts sidewalk in the winter, call or text our office for a free consultation at (617) 889-5000. We will review your case for free, explain your legal options, give you advice, and explain how we can help you recover compensation for your medical bills and injuries.
What Causes More Sidewalk Injuries in the Winter in Boston and Massachusetts?
Winter weather conditions are to blame for more dangerous sidewalks. The combination of snow, ice, black ice, slush, lack of snow removal, or unsalted walkways increases the chances of being injured in a slip and fall on sidewalks in the winter.
1) Snow on Sidewalks
Snowy sidewalks can lead to serious injuries for pedestrians and people who walk in the winter. Whether you walk in your neighborhood, walk your dog on trails, or walk downtown, snow on sidewalks can present risks and dangers. This is a genuine danger, especially as the past 15 years have been the snowiest in Massachusetts’ history.
Snow on sidewalks creates an uneven surface, which makes it more likely that people will trip and fall. Snow can also cover up other dangerous sidewalk conditions, such as cracks and holes in the sidewalk, or it can cover up patches of ice.
Snowbanks and piles of snow from plowing or shoveling can also obstruct sidewalks. When this happens, many pedestrians will navigate around portions of the sidewalk and might end up walking on an even more slippery area of pavement.
If snow is not removed from sidewalks properly, it can pose serious risks for pedestrians. Massachusetts has snow removal laws that aim to protect walkers, joggers, and runners alike, but of course, the law is not always perfectly complied with.
Every property owner in Massachusetts is legally responsible for removing all snow, ice, sleet, and slush from their property. This applies to property owners of businesses, personal homes, and even to landlords for their rental properties. This is a state law that must be followed throughout the whole state. However, many cities and towns have additional and more specific rules about snow and ice removal that can be more strict.
In Boston, the city’s policy only allows businesses up to 3 hours to remove all snow and ice from sidewalks. Residents in Boston get up to 6 hours to remove snow and ice. If there is an overnight storm, typically, the time is extended to 3 or 6 hours from the time of sunrise. If you are hurt from a slip and fall on a city or residential sidewalk because the snow was not removed appropriately, these rules can mean you have a valid legal claim for your injuries.
2) Ice and Black Ice on Sidewalks
Ice can usually be spotted on sidewalks along frozen snow, or it is cloudy or thick enough to see on the sidewalk or walkway. Fluctuating temperatures can cause snow and ice to melt during the day and freeze overnight, leading to a number of slippery icy patches on the sidewalks.
Ice can also fill in any existing uneven surfaces on sidewalks, such as where the sidewalk is cracked or has lifted pavement. When frozen over, these uneven surfaces become much more hazardous.
Black ice is a type of ice that is more sneaky. It’s often very thin, invisible, and incredibly slick. Black ice can be on sidewalks or on crosswalks. Black ice is a danger throughout all of winter, even throughout March, as nights often drop below freezing. Black ice could form from light snow, melted snow, or rain.
3) Icicles and Falling Snow
If you are walking a sidewalk in a town or city, you also face the risk of falling icicles and falling snow.
Icicles hanging from buildings can seriously injure a person if they fall on them. Icicles can be heavy and sharp and can hit someone with a lot of force, especially if they fall from a high distance. The force of a falling icicle can easily lead to bruises, cuts, or possibly even bone fractures. If an icicle is sharp enough and falls with enough force, it can lead to puncture wounds and possible internal injuries.
Snow falling off buildings can also pose additional hazards to pedestrians on sidewalks. Falling snow alone could be enough to hurt you if it’s a heavy load of snow, but even if it’s not a lot of snow, it could still catch you off guard, and you might even end up slipping and falling from the surprise of snow falling on you. Icicles or falling snow also have the potential to cause head injuries, such as a concussion, if they strike a person on the head.
Icicles and snow could also fall from home roofs or trees, so be cautious when walking in nature or on sidewalks lined with trees.
How to Avoid Winter Sidewalk Injuries: Pedestrian Accident Lawyer Shares How to Prevent Slips and Falls on Snow or Ice
First, let's talk about the types of serious injuries you can get from a slip and fall on a winter sidewalk in Massachusetts. Winter slips and falls can result in more severe injuries due to the sidewalk conditions. We’ve had clients who have broken multiple ribs and needed multiple surgeries after slipping on black ice.
Common Winter Sidewalk Injuries include:
- Broken ribs
- Muscle and ligament sprains
- Spinal cord and head injuries
- Broken or fractured wrists, ankles, hips, ribs, and more
- Back and neck injuries
While not all winter sidewalk and slip and fall injuries can be prevented, several tips can help keep you safe (and on both your feet!).
1) Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Take a minute to look around when you’re walking – whether in a park, your neighborhood, or downtown. Look at the roads and sidewalks to see what condition they are in. While you might only see snow on the sidewalk, remember that snow could always cover up ice or black ice.
If you can clearly see the sidewalk, look to see if you notice any darker patches. Darker patches on the sidewalk are a sign of black ice, so avoid them or walk over them with extreme caution. Black ice is especially common in shaded areas or on bridges, so be extra careful when walking in the shade or on bridges or overpasses.
As you walk, look ahead to scan for ice and proceed slowly.
Remember to also look up, if you are walking near buildings, homes, or trees scan for piles of snow or hanging icicles. This is especially important to look out for as it warms up and when there is a thaw and freeze cycle happening with the weather.
2) Check the Weather Forecast
Checking the weather can help you know whether it snowed or rained recently and will tell you how cold it is outside. If temperatures are below freezing or were below freezing overnight, you will know to be on the lookout for ice and black ice on sidewalks.
Of course, you’ll also learn if it has snowed or rained recently so you can prepare for snowy, wet, icy, or slushy sidewalks.
3) Wear Appropriate Shoes
If you walk throughout the winter, even if short distances from public transit or your car to work, or even if just walking through a parking lot, it is best to wear non-slip shoes of some kind. If you are headed to work, you can always wear your winter boots and change into your work shoes at the office.
Your shoes or boots should be insulated, waterproof, and have a wide, low heel and a thick sole that grips the ground. You can also get something called “ice grippers” that you can attach to your shoes to help with traction. If you like to go on long winter walks or winter hikes, ice grippers are a great thing to have.
4) Walk the Winter Walk
Before you cruise ahead as you typically would, take a moment to test out the sidewalk or ground where you’re walking. Carefully slide your foot on the sidewalk before taking a full step forward.
If the area is slippery, you can continue walking with a flat-footed penguin shuffle. This is basically what it sounds like – the idea is that you take shorter steps and walk flat-footed (not heel-to-toe) to have more balance and prevent slips and falls on the ice. You set yourself up for a backward fall when you step heel first. A flat-footed walk helps you stay centered and balanced.
If possible, try to walk in areas with a layer of salt on them.
5) Keep Your Hands Free
Another tip is to wear warm gloves or mittens so you can keep your hands out of your pockets. Having your hands out of your pockets is important because if you lose your balance and begin to slip, your hands can grab onto something or at least break your fall.
6) Be Very Careful Getting Out of a Car or Off Public Transit
No matter how you commute, being very careful when exiting a car or public transit is important.
Your first step out of a car, off the bus or T, should be a step DOWN – not a step OUT. Try to place one foot on the ground at a time, and once both feet are flat on the ground, you can take a slow step forward.
When you immediately step out and away from the car or T, your center of balance is off; if it’s slippery, you are much more likely to fall. We’ve represented people who were seriously injured by slipping on black ice when they stepped out of their car. One client seriously injured herself getting out of her vehicle in her work parking lot. She slipped and fell hard on her elbow. She ended up needing surgery on her shoulder, wrist, and thumb. Another woman we represented slipped on ice in a condo parking lot and broke multiple ribs when she fell.
7) Take Extra Caution When Walking at Night or in the Dark
As you know, winter days are short in Massachusetts, meaning it gets light later and dark earlier. Take extra precautions when you are walking when it is not fully light out.
For one, it’s harder to spot icy patches when it’s dark. If there is insufficient lighting or no lighting on the sidewalk, it will be harder to see any dangerous conditions.
Second, it’s also hard for drivers to see you, which is important when walking in neighborhoods or crossing streets. In general, most pedestrian deaths happen at night, and nearly 70% of pedestrian deaths happen when someone is not walking on the sidewalk.
Especially with the extra dangers of winter walking, it is crucial to only walk in well-lit areas, areas with street lights, or on protected walkways. Consider wearing a reflective vest if you need to cross streets often or if you walk on residential roads without sidewalks.
What To Do If You Fall on a Sidewalk this Winter
If you feel yourself falling, try to fall onto your butt if possible. This can prevent additional injuries from trying to catch yourself and help protect your head from hitting the ground.
If you do fall, don’t get up immediately. If other people are around, wait for someone to help you get up in case you are injured. Having someone helping you up can also prevent another fall.
If no one is around to help you up, take a moment to see if you feel any injuries. If you feel injured, take your cellphone to call 911 for assistance in case it is a serious injury. If you do not feel that you were seriously injured and don’t need immediate medical attention, try rolling to your side. Then, transition into a position on your hands and knees or kneeling. Try to crawl or walk on your knees to an area that looks dry and not slippery. If you can, crawl to an area of support such as a handrail, a bench, or something else you can hold onto as you stand up. Use the support to help push yourself up or slowly transition to a standing position from your knees.
Once you’re off the sidewalk, take small steps forward to prevent another fall. Bend your knees and lean slightly forward so your center of gravity is over your feet. Continue to walk very carefully.
If you notice any type of injury, including bruising, seek medical attention. If you feel faint, dizzy, or are in excruciating pain, call 911 to get emergency medical attention. Even if emergency medical attention is not required, consider going to an urgent care or call your doctor to set up an appointment as soon as possible to get checked out.
If you suffered an injury on a sidewalk in Massachusetts, Spada Law could help you get what you need to recover, from payment for your medical bills to compensation for your pain and suffering.
Were you Injured In a Slip and Fall on an Icy or Snowy Sidewalk in Massachusetts? Spada Law Group offers FREE Winter Slip and Fall Consultations
Call our office or text us if you were injured in a slip or fall accident in Boston or anywhere in Massachusetts due to snowy or icy sidewalks.
We’ve helped hundreds of people recover after slip and fall injuries in Massachusetts. We have the resources to hire investigators and expert witnesses to successfully resolve these often complex cases.
When you hire us, your job is to focus on getting better – our job is to handle everything else.
If you or a loved one were injured on a Massachusetts sidewalk this winter, you have rights and may be able to get compensation for your medical bills, time lost from work, pain and suffering, and more. Our injury attorneys are here to guide you every step of the way.
We have three offices but proudly serve the entire state with the ability to meet with you remotely from the comfort of your own home. Contact us for a free consultation so we can learn more about your winter car accident and injuries and see how we can help you get the recovery you deserve after your injury.