February 27, 2004

Watch Out: Slippery Ice

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Last semester, Eric Angles ’06 walked down the flight of steps by Rockefeller Hall as usual. This time, however, he slipped on a patch of ice and, after using his hand to break his fall, fractured his wrist in two places.

Angles had stumbled into an all too familiar Cornell problem — dangerous ice patches that can not only wound one’s dignity but also break bones and cost hundreds in medical costs. In this case, Angles took full responsibility.

“The path has signs that say it isn’t maintained, but I failed to take it seriously,” he said. Not everybody takes these accidents so lightly, however.

“We live in a litigious society,” said Russell Kendzior, president of the National Floor Safety Institute. “50 years ago, if someone were to slip and fall they pretty much went home and suffered.”

Kendzior, who often serves as an expert witness in slip and fall cases, also emphasized how major an issue slip and fall accidents are. He said that such accidents cost $60 billion dollars a year, and that these accidents are the leading cause of death in people over 75.

“8 million people a year go to emergency room due to slip and fall,” he said. “Those kind of slips and fall accidents can be prevented. It’s simple stuff.”

Cornell grounds maintenance is committed to helping prevent such accidents. Pete Salino of Cornell Grounds Care explained that the grounds team worked in shifts throughout the day, starting at 5:00 a.m.

“We have quite a program set up. Everyone has their positions,” Solino said. During the day, the strategy is generally plow and salt any problem areas reported. After 11:00 p.m., however, the regular shifts end.

If there is a sudden overnight storm, the team relies on calls to the local police to discover problem areas.

“Basically, we’re going to be in half an hour [after a call is placed],” Salino said. “We’ll just send a salter truck usually.”

Despite the team’s efforts though, accidents such as Angles’s still occur, and not everyone takes them as well as he did. According to University Counsel, the school is sued approximately once a year for slip and fall accidents, though many of those are non-ice related.

Legally, a plaintiff must demonstrate that Cornell had fair notice of the problem and was negligent in taking care of it. So far, the University has successfully pushed for dismissal in slip and fall cases, although a case against the school is currently being heard in Westchester, New York, in Greenspan v. Cornell.

Gannett did not have ice-related slip and fall accident numbers on file, said Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett. She did, however, offer tips to students on protecting themselves from injury.

“No matter how well the snow and ice is removed from streets and sidewalks, we all will encounter some slippery surfaces when walking outdoors in the winter,” she said. “Plan ahead; give yourself time to get where you’re going so you don’t have to go too fast.”

If students do begin to fall, she advises that they roll with the fall. She also said that students should “relax as much as possible when [they] begin to fall.”

If an injury does still occur, she also notes that students can receive mobility assistance from the Office of Student Disability Services. Staff members can receive help from the Office of Human resources.

Kendzior said that the best way to deal with injuries, though, is to prevent them. He recommended color coding sidewalks and curbs for easy visibility, as well as making sure proper lighting was present to help pedestrians see problems spots before stepping on them.

“That’s the key: prevention,” he said.

Angles agreed; he said his accident may have been avoidable had he worn his boots instead of tennis shoes, another piece of Dittman’s advice.

Archived article by Michael Morisy