Sidewalk of shame: Who is responsible for clearing sidewalks in the winter?
Winter. That word—at least in the Northeast—immediately brings to mind the image of staring out a window, drinking hot chocolate, watching the snow over a winter wonderland.
But, back in reality, who is responsible for clearing all that magical snow before someone slips and falls on the sidewalk? The most logical answer is that the municipality that installed and owns the sidewalk would be responsible for its snow and ice removal. Unfortunately, that usually is the wrong answer in New York state.
Traditionally, municipalities were responsible for snow removal. However, in recent years, most municipalities in New York have enacted ordinances that shift that responsibility to the property owners located adjacent to the sidewalks. The reason for this shift was not to get out of the backbreaking work, but instead to shift liability of a slip-and-fall to the property owner.
If property owners are liable for failing to remove snow, what does that mean? Do they need to quit their jobs during the winter just to patrol their sidewalks and ensure no wayward snowflakes reach the ground? No, they do not. Property owners are not held strictly liable for any slip-and-fall that occurs on their snowy sidewalks. Instead, the principles of premise liability apply, which state that property owners are liable for harm only if they failed to act reasonably to keep their property safe. For example, traditionally, courts have decided that it would not be reasonable to require people to patrol their property actively for any sign of snow. The common law—law created by courts—in New York, states that a property owner does not have a responsibility to clear snow while it is actively falling.
Instead, property owners are given a reasonable amount of time to remove the snow. What is reasonable, though? The answer can vary widely depending on the municipality. For example, New York City requires snow to be removed within four hours of the end of a storm. Meanwhile, Albany grants property owners 24 hours to clear the snow. It’s important to check your municipality’s ordinance to see what it requires.
With the responsibility and liability of snow removal on the property owner, it is imperative to have the proper homeowners coverage, if and when an accident occurs. Contact our office today to discuss your coverage options.