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Am I legally responsible for shoveling my sidewalk?

As we brave the wintery cold, Valentine’s Day brings some warmth to our hearts and reminds us of when we fell head over heels in love with that special someone.  

Falling head over heels is only good when love is involved.   Walking on snow and ice covered sidewalks can result in a nasty slip and fall. Serious injuries can occur which may bring unexpected medical treatment and bills. Is anyone legally responsible when these accidents occur?

In some instances, a property owner may be responsible when someone falls head over heels on their property.    This week, Your Legal Corner will discuss the various factors that govern sidewalk liability.

Type of Property

The law distinguishes the level of care to be provided to a pedestrian based upon the type of property involved. For example, the level of care required for a residential property owner is quite different and much less when compared to a commercial property owner.

Residential Property

With a residential property, the sidewalk that abuts or is in front of your premises is considered public property. As a result, the general rule is a homeowner is not responsible for the condition of the public sidewalk in front of the home. There is no duty to maintain the sidewalk in front of the premises in a safe condition. However, it would be too simple if that was the only rule and there were no exceptions.

If a homeowner attempts to make repairs to correct some defect or clears the sidewalk from ice or snow, they may be held legally responsible if their actions are done negligently and result in a new or increased element of danger to a pedestrian.

For example, if a property owner undertakes to shovel the snow covered sidewalk and leaves a thin layer of ice but does not spread salt, they could be held responsible for a fall for increasing the element of danger that previously did not exist.

Additionally, the driveway and walkway leading up to the property is always the responsibility of the homeowner. Therefore in this instance there is in most cases homeowner liability for slip and falls on their property.

Commercial Property  

Commercial property owners have a higher duty of care when it comes to sidewalk liability. Their responsibility can best be described in one word, “reasonableness.”

The owner of a commercial property has a duty to use reasonable care to ensure the sidewalk abutting their property is safe for pedestrians using them. They must determine whether the condition of the sidewalk poses an unreasonable risk of harm. If so, they must take action in a reasonable period of time to correct the condition.  

Notably, a commercial property owner is required to take affirmative steps to correct any dangerous condition. Especially with snow and ice, they must remain vigilant to ensure that changing conditions are addressed in a timely manner.

Homeowner or Condominium Association

In this type of living arrangement many individuals have left their traditional neighborhood to live in an “over 55” or condominium community. Who is responsible for the sidewalks in a private community?

In a recent decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that the rule governing residential property owners does not apply where the association controls the sidewalks. The bylaws of the homeowners’ association typically spell out a duty on the association to maintain sidewalks and common areas. As such, they have a duty to maintain those areas in a safe condition.

As you can see the rules are somewhat confusing. Should you suffer from a slip and fall, it is best to contact a personal injury attorney to know for sure who is legally responsible.

Hopefully, this Valentine’s Day is only filled with love and fond memories of when you first fell head over heels!!!

Till next time, God bless, keep smiling, when Your Legal Corner will discuss “A Patient’s Bill of Rights.” Victoria M. Dalton is a dedicated Family/Elder Law Attorney with the Law Offices of Hoffman DiMuzio. Email correspondence to [email protected] or call 856-845-8243.

Please note that Your Legal Corner was created to provide educational material about the law and is not legal advice.

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