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How “freeze-thaw cycles” make Chicago sidewalks more dangerous

On Behalf of | Dec 12, 2023 | Personal Injury

Native and long-time Chicagoans have learned to navigate vast weather extremes — from subzero temperatures (made colder by the wind gusts) in the winter to extreme heat and humidity in the summer. Now, the increasing unpredictability of the weather is causing significant temperature changes within seasons.

This can be tough on people’s bodies – and also on the outside surfaces on which we walk. Even “normal” temperature fluctuations can cause something called the “freeze-thaw cycle.” This cycle affects the walls and foundations of buildings. It also affects the concrete and other materials under one’s feet on sidewalks, walkways, parking lots and outdoor stairways.

Understanding freeze-thaw cycles

Rain and snow make for slippery surfaces. However, when temperatures drop below freezing, the moisture expands. This causes the water that’s seeped below the surface to create pressure on the concrete. Over time, that wears it down. This can cause cracks, unevenness and instability.

When the temperature rises again, even if briefly, the ice thaws. If it then refreezes within a short time, you’ve got an intense freeze-thaw cycle. When you have temperatures going from close to zero or below at night and rising to above-freezing during the day, or even a few freezing days followed by a short warm spell and back to freezing again, you can see how hard that is on surfaces. Potholes are an extreme example of the serious damage that can occur.

Unfortunately, products like ice melt and rock salt, which are commonly used to help minimize the danger of slippery surfaces, can speed up the freeze-thaw cycle. This can cause even more damage in the long run.

Can you hold a property owner responsible for an injury?

As noted in a recent post, both business owners and homeowners have a responsibility for some of the sidewalk areas around their property while others are the responsibility of the city. Of course, property owners are responsible for keeping their walkways and other outdoor surfaces as safe as possible when rain, ice and snow hit.

Although slip-and-fall accidents may seem like an expected part of Chicago winters, some can be extremely serious. That’s particularly true for older people. Anyone of any age, however, can suffer a head injury or serious fracture if they fall on a hard surface.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a slippery or uneven condition on someone’s property, don’t just assume that there was nothing the property owner could have done to prevent it. It’s a good idea to seek legal guidance to determine whether they took the required precautions given the weather and the condition of their property. Don’t agree to any settlement until you have this kind of information.