Winter Weather and Its Effect on Premises Liability

When the mercury drops and the snow begins to fall, most of us would much rather have one hand on a remote control than two hands on a shovel. While the former is undoubtedly more comfortable, shoveling the sidewalk is a necessary winter evil. This is because of something called premises liability.

Property owners are generally accountable for injuries occurring on their property. Depending on whether the person on the property is a visitor (like a patron to a store or restaurant, or someone who you permitted to enter your home) or rather a trespasser will determine the responsibilities of the property owner. But accountability kicks in if one of the following statements are true:

  • The dangerous condition is attributable to the actions/inactions of the property owner;
  • The owner was aware of the dangerous condition but failed to take corrective measures;
  • The owner should have been aware of the dangerous condition if he or she had inspected the property.

During the winter months, this means that you could be financially responsible for a slip-and-fall accident on your property. If someone–be it the mailman, or a neighbor walking their dog–falls and injures themselves on your icy sidewalk or driveway, you may have to notify your insurance carrier.

The best way to protect yourself against having to pay someone else’s medical bills is to know your responsibilities. These responsibilities vary depending on whether you own a home, rent a home, or lease an apartment or own a commercial property.

  • Homeowners and commercial property owners are undoubtedly responsible for clearing their sidewalks of snow and ensuring that they do not ice over.
  • Those who rent/lease a home are more-than-likely responsible for shoveling and salting their sidewalks.
  • Residents of an apartment complex are likely not responsible for tending to their sidewalks. It is important, however, for such individuals to check the terms of their lease to make sure that there is no clause to the contrary.

Moreover, responsibilities can vary by municipality. In Philadelphia, for example, a city-wide ordinance requires the “owner, agent, and tenants” of any building to clear a path at least 36 inches wide on their sidewalk within six hours following a snowstorm. In addition to putting themselves at risk of costly civil liability, individuals in violation of this law can be subject to a fine ranging from $50 to $300.

With this information in mind, be sure to exercise due diligence the next time a winter storm overtakes the tri-state area. Should you fail to do so, you may be exposing yourself to a lawsuit that will prove far more uncomfortable than a short trip out into the elements.