A Cedar Rapids lawyer invented a device that will help property owners avoid being sued for costly slip and fall injuries — which is ironic as he represents those injured, but it was one of those very cases that led to his idea.
Darin Luneckas had a case in 2008 involving a nurse who suffered a serious pelvis injury that limited her mobility after she fell on black ice at a gas station.
The ice was a result of downspout icing, which is common during the winter. The snow and ice collects on canopies and roofs, and then drain into downspouts and onto sidewalk or pavement areas, creating a transparent sheet of ice.
“I thought there must be something to fix this problem,” Luneckas recalled. “I found out this gas station had previous slip and fall cases, all caused by downspouts … which created black ice, and nothing was done to fix it.”
He started drawing possible models on a piece of scrap paper and eventually came up with the Slick Shield. The device attaches to a downspout and forces the melting ice through a closed system of baffles and rock salt — long enough to turn it into saline or salt brine, which doesn’t freeze and simply evaporates.
Prototypes of the Slick Shield are now being tested at a Hawkeye Convenience store in Hiawatha, West Ridge Care Center and Hawkeye Area Community Action Program in Cedar Rapids. All businesses have more than one downspout and high pedestrian traffic.
Marshall Petersen, president of Hawkeye Oil Co., said the concept is “simple to see” and he believes other businesses will be interested in this product. He has been aware of downspout icing for years every time temperatures fluctuate.
According to a study conducted by a forensic meteorologist in Des Moines, the melting and freezing occurs an average of 23 times a year, Luneckas said. The study was based on the past five years.
Steve Brighi, manager of the Hiawatha store, said the device isn’t difficult to maintain, and employees aren’t spending time going outside to throw ice melt.
“It (saline) prevents refreezing and just leaves a chalky residue,” Brighi said. “There haven’t been any accidents.”
Luneckas said he hopes the invention can be marketed, but his motivation was to reduce “senseless” injuries and claims. He found out through a deposition in the nurse’s case the company she sued had several previous slip-and-fall claims.
According to the law, downspout icing is considered artificial accumulation, which is something man-made that causes a hazard, and the property owner likely will be held responsible, Luneckas said.
Many slip-and-fall incidents, such as the nurse’s, result in serious or permanent injuries, Luneckas said. The average cost of a slip-and-fall injury is $28,000, which includes medical bills, physical therapy and lost wages. The nurse won a settlement two to three times higher than expected for a claim of its kind.
Luneckas hopes to market the device for about $200 and the rock salt is 12 cents a pound, compared to ice melt at 50 cents or more a pound.
Luneckas’s next step is to build a tool that will create the devices. He estimates making the tool will cost about $15,000 to $20,000. He has a couple investors and is using his own money for the venture.