Icy Sidewalks: Are You Liable If Someone Falls?

Posted by Safeco January 12, 2015

Know Your Snow Removal Responsibilities

Liability for winter sidewalks falls

When temperatures dip below freezing and freshly fallen snow blankets the ground, your first instinct likely isn’t to rush out into the cold to shovel and salt the sidewalk. But, it’s certainly not a matter to ignore, either. Not when pedestrians could come to harm on an icy sidewalk, resulting in injuries for which you may be liable.

Many of us are unclear exactly what our responsibilities and liabilities are when it comes to clearing the sidewalk. Are you liable for injuries if you don’t shovel your sidewalk and someone falls? Are you negligent if you attempt to clear it but do a poor job? What if you wait too long after a storm to remove snow?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive answer to these questions, as each incident must be examined individually. However, by considering the questions below, you can start to better understand your snow removal responsibilities, as defined by your city, and why it’s so important to ensure your property is safe for others.

Do you know the residential snow removal laws in your municipality?
Go to your city, municipality or even your homeowners association website and search on “snow removal” or “sidewalk clearing.” You will likely find some guidelines and timelines on removing snow from residential sidewalks. You may even discover that you are subject to a fine or a citation for not clearing them. If you’re renting a home, examine your lease and check with your landlord to establish snow removal responsibilities.

Are you taking care of your property?
At all times, your property should be reasonably safe for others. Examples of ensuring your property is safe range from spreading cat litter over an icy patch on the sidewalk in front of your home to having a locked fence around your pool. Taking these kinds of measures is smart. It may help to reduce the liability and the risks that you face. Plus, if you’re involved in a lawsuit involving an injury on your property, someone may have a hard time establishing a case of negligence against you if the property is well maintained.

Do you have adequate liability coverage on your homeowners policy?
Depending on the incident and the liability coverage of your homeowners insurance, your policy may come to your aid when someone is injured on your property. Your policy may help by covering medical bills, lost wages and possibly other costs of the injured party. However, your homeowners insurance only covers you up to a set dollar amount, which you select when purchasing the policy. If the costs exceed that amount, you will likely be financially responsible to pay the remainder from your own personal resources. In the event of a lawsuit, your homeowners insurance may also help with your own legal fees.

Do you have an umbrella policy to help cover costly incidents?
Today, injury claims – and especially lawsuits – can be exorbitant, and homeowners may find their home insurance does not cover the full cost. Those with an umbrella policy, however, have extra liability coverage to help take care of covered costs, up to the policy’s defined limit. This safety net of liability coverage typically kicks in once the homeowners coverage has been exhausted. So, instead of paying out of their own pockets, homeowners can typically turn first to their home insurance and then to their umbrella insurance, if needed. If you’re unsure whether your homeowners and umbrella policies cover you in this way, check with your local insurance agent.

This winter, be mindful of the snow removal laws of your municipality, the safety of others and, of course, whether or not you have enough insurance coverage to protect you against an injury claim or even a lawsuit. And remember, while it’s important to clear your sidewalks following a winter storm, it’s also important to maintain your property throughout the year.

Be safe out there when you’re shoveling snow!

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