Winter can make life complicated.
From the longer commute times to work to poor weather conditions, and of course, the snow and ice.
As a homeowner, you are required by law to remove that snow and ice from your sidewalks. While you can let it pile on the driveway, your sidewalks and entries to your home must be cleared and safe for visitors, delivery personnel and more.
Premises liability addresses a property owner’s responsibility to offer visitors a safe place. The most common type of premises liability cases in the winter are slip and fall.
Slip and fall cases are incredibly complicated, especially because the issue of who clears the snow and when it should be cleared creates numerous legal questions.
Who is Responsible for Clearing Snow and Ice?
As a homeowner, you are responsible for all snow and ice removal on your property. This typically includes sidewalks, walkways and driveways. Any areas where people must walk on your property must be cleared to prevent slips and falls.
If someone was injured, you could be legally responsible for their injuries and the financial burden of those injuries.
Somethings to Consider about Snow and Ice Removal
Say a mailman was walking up to your door to deliver a package. If he or she were to fall on the ice you failed to salt, you could be responsible for all their injuries.
With your homeowner’s insurance policy, your policy might cover some of the costs if that person is injured, but only to the maximum value of your policy.
If the medical costs are higher than your policy limits, you could be personally liable for the remaining costs.
Snow and Ice Must be Cleared in a Reasonable Amount of Time
Under most premises liability laws, it is required that you remove snow and ice within a reasonable amount of time. What is “reasonable,” however, is not always defined by law. Therefore, it was difficult to decide what a reasonable timeframe was.
Naturally, if the snowstorm just hit and someone fell within a few minutes, that is not a reasonable amount of time. However, having snow that sits on your walkway for three days is more than reasonable.
Tips for Avoiding Premises Liability
Homeowners can do things to prevent a premises liability claim against their home in the future, most of which is common sense or just acting quickly.
As a homeowner, you can respond quickly by clearing your sidewalk as soon as possible, especially if you live in an area that receives snow and plenty of foot traffic. Also, do not forget that small children will be walking on your sidewalk to go to school in the morning. So, it is in your best interest to remove that snow before school hours.
Before the snow and ice arrive, have salt treatments on hand. Some homeowners put a bucket of salt on their porch so that they can sprinkle it every time it looks icy.
Act When Out of Town Too
If you are out of town, you are still responsible for clearing snow and ice from your property; after all, the world will not stop using your sidewalks just because you are out of town. Therefore, it is your responsibility to make arrangements with a company or friend to clear your sidewalks and salt the icy walkways while you are on vacation.
Keep on Top of Snow Removal
Snow is easiest to remove when it is in light layers. The more you allow to accumulate, the harder it will be to remove. A snow blower does better on larger volumes of snow.
So, if you do not own a snow blower, go shovel as the light layers of snow first appear so that it is easier to lift and keep from your driveway and sidewalks.
Do Not Forget About Icicles – a Premises Liability Issue
You may be diligent about removing snow and ice from walkways and your drive, but what about icicles?
If an icicle were to break off, it could severely injure someone, and you would be just as responsible for that injury.
Check your gutters and downspouts to ensure they are draining properly. When water pools inside of them, it will eventually freeze and form icicles. Also, if your downspout is not draining properly, it may leave icy patches on the sidewalk or walkways below.
If there are any icicles present, it is in your best interest to place cones around that area so that no one walks underneath them and puts themselves at risk. By placing cones or tying off the area, you are being proactive and preventing injuries.
Look for Other Tripping Hazards That Could Spark a Premises Liability Lawsuit
While snow and ice are your most common winter hazards that can cause a dangerous slip and fall, you still must look for other dangers.
Uneven sidewalks can lead to trips and falls; therefore, have them repaired or put warning signs so that people walking on them know there is rough pavement.
Also, keep all driveways and walkways to your home well lit. If someone were to fall because it was too dark in front of your home, you are just as responsible as if they slipped on ice. To save on electricity, you can use motion sensing lights to click on when someone walks up to the house and turn off after a few minutes.
Verify You Have the Coverage
Not all homeowner’s insurance policies cover premises liability issues. Therefore, now is the time to review your policy and make sure you are protected. Whatever insurance cannot cover will become your personal responsibility, so ensure you have adequate coverage.