What is my Duty to Shovel Snow?
Snow is beautiful. I love to watch it fall. I takes me back to my childhood, when a snowman, a snow angel, sledding and hot chocolate were what snow meant. As an adult I know about the dangers associated with snow. My father’s cold turned into pneumonia while he was shoveling snow. Every year you hear about someone having a heart attack while out shoveling their front walk. The more common injury, though, is a back injury. When the snow warms up, melts and then the temperatures drop we get the ice and the danger becomes real for us all. Slipping on the ice can cause all sorts of very serious injuries. I have represented people who have ruptured discs, hit their heads and had a brain injury, been in car wrecks and have been paralyzed with a spinal cord injury. But we are not here to talk about traffic accidents. We are here to discuss the duty to remove snow and ice from sidewalks.
Homeowners and business owners have a duty to keep their property in a reasonably safe condition for their guests and business patrons. So if you are a homeowner, and you have no one coming over, you probably don’t have to worry about shoveling your walks. If you invite someone over, though, a reasonable person would want to make sure that that person can get into their home without falling. In this circumstance, shoveling the walk, or putting down ice melt is a reasonable thing to do to make your walk safe. If your property is in a city or town, and your property is boardered by a public walk, what is your duty? Most Cities and towns have ordinances which require people who have a public walk next to their property to shovel that walk. If you do not shovel that walk, and the city or town is up to the task, they can write you a ticket, and you may have to pay a fine. However, this duty to shovel the public walk does not make the homeowner responsible for a persons injuries if they do not shovel the walk and that someone falls. We do not owe a duty to other people to shovel snow on other people’s property, including public property. The duty is to the City, and you can be fined (though this rarely happens) but you are not liable if you were to get sued.
Business owners have essentially the same duties as homeowners. The major difference is that the whole point of the business is to get people into your store to buy what you have to sell. Usually the store owner puts up catchy signs and lights to catch the attention of the consumer to lure them into the store. Because the store owners know that people will be coming and their attention will be diverted, it is important, that once they know there is snow and or ice on the ground, they must make the walks and parking lots safe for those customers. A reasonable business owner does this by contracting with a snow removal business. The property owner is still responsible to make sure the snow removal business does a good job making their property safe for their customers.
In conclusion, if you are worried about what to do, it is probably safest to remove the snow and ice. This helps us all get along and allows all to get things done.