With the winter season upon us, liability questions regarding slips, falls, and snow removal become relevant. So to get right to it: are you liable if someone slips on your sidewalk or driveway? You could well be, depending on the circumstances and where you live. This is important to keep in mind when you’re getting homeowners insurance quotes.
In most places, you cannot be held liable, as long as it’s a natural accumulation and you didn’t exacerbate the danger. After all, snowfall is, in essence, an act of God. These cases, as you might imagine, have the most relevance in the Northeast and Midwest. Urban and suburban populations are higher in those areas and winter precipitation is more of a factor in daily life.
The Ohio Supreme Court held everyone is assumed to appreciate the risks associated with the natural accumulations of ice and snow. So, therefore, everyone is responsible to protect himself or herself. Ironically though, clearing the snow could be considered altering the natural accumulation, which could open you to a suit if done improperly.
Responsibility Extends Beyond Property Line
Logic might maintain you can’t be held liable for the public sidewalk in front of your property. However, the opposite is actually the case. If one of your downspouts streams water across the sidewalk, which freezes and contributes to a fall—it’s on you. What’s more, in cities like Bridgeport, Connecticut, you’re also responsible for keeping public sidewalks in front of your property accumulation free. Injured parties get up to two years to bring suit against you in Bridgeport.
Conditions During the Incident
If someone slips and falls on a snowy or icy sidewalk during an active snowstorm, liability is not attached. After all, it is unreasonable to expect anyone to try to keep up with a blizzard to keep a walkway clear. However, if you have the aforementioned leaky downspout or drain pipe, liability could accrue to you during snowfall. After all, you’re supposed to keep things like those in good repair.
But getting back to standard snowfall, cities like Boston give you a period of three hours’ grace before requiring to you clear snow away after a storm. There are specific rules about the width of the path you must clear tas well (42 inches wide in Boston). Additionally, you are required to clear accumulations down to the bare pavement—or make the surface as level as possible.
The Bottom Line
So, are you liable if someone slips on your sidewalk or driveway? While laws vary and can sometimes seem illogical, your best bet is to keep your paths and walkways as clear as possible. You should also avoid piling snow where people might trip over it. This could be considered an unnatural accumulation, which would render you liable for resulting injuries. In addition to exercising prudent behavior, a good homeowners insurance policy could save you a lot of trouble and headaches.
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