Liablity in Upstate New York for Failing to Shovel or Salt or Otherwise Clear Snow and Ice from your Walkway

Holy Kamoli!  The weather gods sure dumped a lot of that white fluffy stuff on us last night here in Geneva NY!  I measured almost a foot and a half in my backyard this morning.

But it’s not just Geneva – the whole State is blanketed, including New York City.  Nearby Syracuse, which is in the “snow belt”, got even more than us.

Are you a homeowner?  If you are, you may be wondering whether you can get sued for personal injuries if you don’t remove the snow and ice from your walkway.  Quick answer:  Yes!  Believe me, I have represented victims of walkway slip-and-falls before.

For example, a few winters ago I represented a Geneva mailman who slipped on a homeowner’s walkway as he delivered mail. His federal workers’ compensation administrators required him to seek out legal representation to sue the homeowner.  They wanted to recover the medical expenses and income replacement they had paid out to him by having him sue the homeowner.  So he called me.  I represented him in his suit against the homeowner.

Result?  We won plenty to pay back the comp folks AND to compensate him for his pain and suffering and disabilities caused by his slip-and-fall.  The homeowner’s insurance covered it all.  The mailman was very happy with the result, and so were the federal workers’ compensation folks.  The homeowner’s insurer not so much.

So what exactly are your obligations as homeowner for snow and ice removal?  Do you have to remove every flake as it lands on your walkway?  No!

The legal requirement is one of reasonableness. As long as the snow is still falling, you need not remove it.  Once it stops, you should probably get out there within an hour or so, or at least as soon as you get back home from work.  If you are at work and can’t get home, try to have someone else do it, especially if you are expecting a visitor such as a UPS, Fed Express or US mail deliverer.

Do you have to salt, too?  That depends.  Remember, the rule of thumb is reasonableness.  If there is ice, you absolutely need to salt.  If there is no ice, but a film of snow remains after you plow, you really ought to throw some salt down to clear off the remaining snow, just to be extra safe.  I plowed out my walkway just now, and am going back out there right after I finish this blog to throw down some salt:

What about the public sidewalk abutting your property?  Do you have to remove snow and ice from there, too?  Most cities, towns and villages own the sidewalk, the homeowner does not.  Since it is not your property, you normally would have no obligation to clear snow and ice from it.  But most municipalities have an ordinance on the books that requires homeowners to remove snow and ice from the sidewalk abutting their property.

For example, the City of Geneva’s ordinance says that homeowners must remove snow from the sidewalks within 24 hours after the snow stops falling, and that businesses need to continuously remove it during business hours.

If you don’t remove it, though, you can’t be sued by someone who slips and falls there.  That’s because you don’t OWN the sidewalk, the City does.  The only real financial consequence to you for failing to remove snow and ice from the sidewalk is that the municipality can fine you and/or make you pay for their work in clearing it.  Usually they will only do this if neighbors repeatedly complain about your failure to shovel/salt.

But whether your City or Town is good about enforcing the rule or not, you should clear the snow and ice from your sidewalk.  Be a good neighbor!  Your neighbors need a safe place to walk.  Your failure to do your part will force them to walk in the street where traffic might injure them.

I practice what I preach!  Here’s a photo of my electric snow blower on my sidewalk.  I’m about half done:

One more thing:  This may seem counterintuitive, but if you DO remove the snow and ice from the public sidewalk, you had better do it right!  Although you can’t get sued for failing to clear snow and ice from a public sidewalk, if you negligently plow or salt it so that you made  it MORE dangerous, you can get sued.  Example:  You remove the snow but leave a film of ice exposed, which causes a neighbor to slip and fall.  You can be sued for that because your actions caused the slip and fall.

So to sum it all up, a slip-and-fall victim can sue you for failing to salt/plow your walkway or for negligently salting/plowing the public sidewalk, but cannot sue you for failing to plow/salt the public sidewalk.  Even though you can’t get sued for not removing snow from the public sidewalk abutting your property, your municipality (city, town, village) can fine you for that, and — geez — you just ought to do it to be a good neighbor.

BTW, these rules do not apply in New York City.  Totally different rules down there!  I’m not going to bother explaining because my readers are almost all up here, in snow country, not down in the balmy climes of NYC.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani

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Syracuse NY Slip-and-Fall Lawyers
Michaels Bersani Kalabanka

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