Winter Maintenance: Freeze, Thaw, and Refreeze Expert Article

The adequacy of snow and ice management is frequently disputed in premises liability cases. Standards for snow and ice control on walkway surfaces recommend methods to maintain reasonably safe walkways where snow and ice, including refreezing of melt water, impact the safety of pedestrians. These standards also warn that conformance with the standards will not alleviate ALL snow and ice hazards. They do, however, represent a reasonable effort to reduce pedestrian risks associated with snow and ice.

This article provides a list of core discovery questions relevant to winter maintenance disputes.

Winter Maintenance Expert Witness Investigations

Precipitation Freeze, Thaw, and Refreeze Hazards

Removing snow and ice accumulation from winter precipitation events is only the beginning of a sound winter maintenance program. Depending on the site location and configuration, the topography, and pedestrian access routes, additional winter maintenance efforts may be required to meet standards for walkway safety.

Snow and ice that is either insufficiently removed or improperly stockpiled could become hazardous when it melts and refreezes as conditions change.

Planning and Procedures to Address Freeze, Thaw, and Refreeze Hazards

A common oversight in these cases involves a failure to mitigate the hazards associated with varying conditions associated with freeze, thaw, and refreeze.

Whether plaintiff or defense counsel, it’s important to understand the winter maintenance policies, procedures, and actions in your case. These questions serve only as a framework and should be modified or expanded to account for the specific circumstances in your case.

Discovery Questions for Winter Maintenance Planning

  • Was winter maintenance preparatory and ongoing?
  • Were weather thresholds established to trigger winter maintenance procedures?
  • Did those responsible understand specific local conditions like the core pavement temperature, micro-climates, and weather exposure?
  • Was removed snow and ice placed/stockpiled in a manner that allowed water from melting snow and ice to drain safely away from walkways?
    • Shoveling snow to landscaped areas may prevent potentially hazardous effects from the refreezing of meltwater.
  • Were walkways periodically monitored and treated for refreezing?
  • Did third party service agreements include means, materials, and methods for snow and ice control, as well as diagrams of areas to be serviced?
    • Diagrams may also include locations of where snow stockpiling accumulations should be placed to minimize slip and fall exposures.
    • While third party services typically include snow removal, monitoring, and, or a combination of these services, the definition of monitoring has evolved as additional services are being offered in the industry.
  • Did winter maintenance agreements contain a scope of work that explicitly identifies monitoring responsibilities and amount? They may include;
    • No Site monitoring included with snow removal
    • Ice Patrol with limiting language
    • Inclusive Ice Patrol

Discovery Questions for Materials Used to Minimize the Hazards of Refreeze

While maintaining walkway safety in a refreeze environment may be a dynamic process, there are specific materials and methods recommended for its mitigation. It is important to specifically distinguish the groups;

  • Were anti-icing products used prior to winter events? If so, which?
    Anti-icing; This dry or liquid chemical is intended to be applied before a snow or ice precipitation event and is intended to prevent precipitation from freezing to the pavement for easier removal.
  • Which de-icing products were used at the facility?
    De-icing: These products are applied on top of snow or ice or both when they are frozen to the pavement.
  • Was the use of abrasives part of your winter maintenance program? Were they used in conjunction with, or as a substitute for other protective measures? Under which circumstances?
    Abrasives: These products are applied to enhance traction when snow or ice cannot be removed.

Discovery Questions on Snow Removal Policies and Training

  • Were 3rd party vendors are involved, does that provider have policies or standard procedures involving anti-icing? Were those practices followed at this location?
    • Application prior to certain precipitation events may accelerate the melting process by creating liquid brine between the walkway surface and the snow and ice accumulation.
  • What training did winter maintenance workers have or receive?
    • Workers using anti-icing and de-icing solutions should be trained on application requirements and techniques, preferably by the vendor.
    • Special training may be needed, including the amount to apply and the effect of warming temperatures and increased humidity.
    • When snow removal or the use of deicing materials are not possible sand and other abrasives can be used to create traction.

Slip, Trip, and Fall Investigations

The Premises Safety team at Robson Forensic is trained to investigate cases involving the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of residential, institutional, and commercial premises. We conduct site investigations, perform tests, and review applicable standards and discovery documents to learn facts and form opinions about how and why individuals were injured within the built environment.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.


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