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Slip, fall, break a leg - who pays?

During the wintertime, around 20,000 people a month in Finland sustain an injury as a result of slipping on snow and ice. Even without personal insurance coverage, there are many ways that treatment following a fall gets paid.

Pääkaupunkiseudulla yön vesisade ja lämmennyt sää sulattavat liukkaita teitä. Kuvassa liukastellaan Helsingissä 16. tammikuuta 2015. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

By law, property owners and anyone in charge of road or street maintenance is responsible for ensuring that slippery surfaces are "well and sufficiently" cleaned to prevent falls and injuries. If you do slip and fall, as tens of thousands of people do each winter, there is a range of options for compensation for injuries.

The basic rule of thumb is that responsibility is determined by where you fall.

If you fall while on your way to work, hospital fees are covered by the accident insurance that employers are required to carry for their employees. Many people, 60% of Finns according to the Federation of Finnish Financial Services, also have private accident insurance.

If you fall and hurt yourself, say outside the door of your own block of flats or those of a friend or relative, then insurance carried by the property owner or owners can cover your medical bills. In most cases this means the insurance policy of housing cooperatives. Maintenance companies hired by housing cooperatives are not held responsible. If your fall happens on a street or sidewalk that should be cleaned or sanded by the municipality, then its insurance should pay.

Anyone who sustains an injury from slipping and falling has to take the initiative of filing a claim. Risto Karhunen, the director of the Federation of Finnish Financial Services, says that it's advisable to document the conditions under which your accident took place, for example by taking a photograph with your mobile phone.

More payouts

Injuries from falls on ice and snow are almost always covered by accident insurance. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Insurance payouts by municipalities have risen sharply as people have become more aware of where and how to file for compensation. For example, nowadays over a million euros a year are paid out in Helsinki. Individual claims and payments can run into the tens of thousands of euros covering medical expenses and lost income.

It is estimated that about half of the patients at the emergency room at Helsinki's Töölö Hospital treated for injuries from falls during the slipperiest days of January were intoxicated when they took a spill. Even in these cases, insurance claims are honoured. However, insurance coverage is not valid if an individual has shown gross carelessness, that is knowingly put himself or herself at risk, for example by riding a bicycle while intoxicated. Generally, if the same accident could have happened sober or drunk, insurance will cover expenses.

According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare, during the winter around 20,000 people in Finland are injured outside every month by slipping and falling. Public health services treat over 10,000 patients annually for injuries from such falls.

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