The cold of winter, together with rain, snow, sleet, ice, brings about dangerous and hazardous walkways, whether on a sidewalk, or in a parking lot of your favorite shopping mall. A property owner however, often times has a duty to make such walkways reasonably safe, and the failure to do so will make them liable to compensate a person, who slips and falls, for injuries and losses.
The civil law imposes no responsibility on a private, residential homeowner to clean public abutting sidewalks of ice and or snow. However, most municipalities by ordinance or code will require a residential homeowner to clean public sidewalks in front of, or next to their property within a certain time following snow or other precipitation. Thus, a homeowner would have no responsibility to compensate one who slips and falls on public sidewalk in front of their house, but may have to pay a fine for violating the ordinance.
There are exceptions. If a homeowner engages in snow and ice removal on a public sidewalk (most likely to happen in light of municipal ordinances), it must do so in a reasonable manner and can be liable for civil damages for any personal injuries caused by the failure to do the job right. Also, walkways, and driveways within the property must be cleared of ice and snow, or made reasonably safe in most instances.
Owners of commercial property have an absolute non-delegable duty to make their property reasonably safe for the public. That applies to public sidewalks abutting the property. So, a store owner must clean a front sidewalk of ice and snow and will be liable for injuries suffered by someone who slips and falls using the sidewalk even if the victim was not a patron of the commercial establishment. That duty applies as well to the parking areas of commercial properties. An owner must make it reasonably safe not only for the public to park, but to walk within the lot and on any sidewalks or walkways within its property.
Most often, commercial landowners contract with another party, such as a landscaping company for ice and snow removal, and will often look to shift liability in the event the area is not cleaned properly. However, the ultimate responsibility lies with the landowner, and a contractual clause with an outside party cannot absolve its responsibility to compensate a harmed person who slips and falls.
As Spring approaches, the ground often becomes wet due to rain, and melting snow. Warmer weather during the day giving rise to cold temperatures at night produces very dangerous walking conditions. Black ice is difficult to see and can cause an unsuspecting person to slip, fall and suffering serious personal injuries. Property owners need to take precautions such as inspecting parking lots and sidewalks, spreading rock salt, or providing some other warning to the public.
Whether walking in front of your neighbor’s house, or in the lot of a strip mall, the law imposes a duty on you as well to exercise reasonable care, make proper observations, and take necessary precautions to prevent falls and personal injuries. Walk around areas that may be icy, pay attention, wear proper footwear, and mostly, use common sense. The failure to do so will limit, or even prevent recovering money damages to compensate you for any harms or losses you suffer when you slip and fall.