Clear Your Sidewalk and Avoid Slip and Fall Injuries

February 12, 2016 / 12:00 am

Wintry weather can be delightful…when you don’t have to deal with it.

But when you’re an adult, snowy weather is mostly just a headache. While your kids are off sledding or building snow men, you’re digging out your car or making sure your pipes don’t freeze.

And then there’s your sidewalk. Keeping it clear after snowy or icy weather isn’t just safe and neighborly, it’s the law. Having a slippery sidewalk can leave you open to a lawsuit if someone slips and falls on your property.

Here’s how liability breaks down:

  • Homeowners are responsible for shoveling and salting walkways, sidewalks and driveways. If someone is hurt on your property, you could be held responsible for paying their medical bills, replacing lost wages and other damages.
  • Business owners are required to maintain safe conditions on their properties. In winter time, this means clearing snow and ice from parking lots, sidewalks, entrances and other areas.
  • If you live in a rental property, check your lease agreement. Your landlord or property manager could be responsible for clearing snow and ice, or it might be the tenant’s duty.

Pennsylvania law says that a person injured by a fall on snow or ice must show that the property owner knew — or should have known — the situation was dangerous, and failed to take action to make their property safer, either by clearing the snow or posting a warning.

Under state law, property owners have 24 hours until after the show stops falling to either start clearing snow or to provide some sort of warning. This requirement exists because it’s impossible to expect property owners to keep their sidewalks, steps, etc. clear when snow is still accumulating.

State law requires property owners to follow what’s known as the Hills and Ridges Doctrine, which means they need to exercise a duty of care when wintry precipitation accumulates to a point where hills and ridges of snow and ice begin to form. Failing to clear this ice and snow can potentially lead to a case in which you’ll need the assistance of a PA personal injury attorneys.

Under the doctrine, plaintiffs in slip and fall cases need to demonstrate three things:

  1. Snow and ice accumulated so much that in obstructed travel.
  2. The snow and ice is what caused the plaintiff’s fall.
  3. The property owner knew – or at least should have been aware – of these conditions.

Rather than worry about the threat of a lawsuit, take action as soon as possible after a storm ends. Here are some tips for keeping your property safe during winter to prevent slip and fall injuries:

  • You should always put on the proper footwear – something warm, and with a good tread – when you’re outside.
  • Keep an eye out for leaking/dropping water around your house. Outside leaks can freeze overnight and become a hazard.
  • If you see icy areas around your home, immediately put down salt or another ice-melting substance. Get rid of standing water, which will turn to ice when temperatures drop.
  • If you know an area of your property is prone to ice formations, put down orange cones to warn pedestrians.
  • When clearing off your car after a storm, be aware that melted snow and ice can refreeze on your driveway.
  • Shoveling is hard work. Stretch before you begin shoveling, lift with your knees, stay hydrated. And even though it’s cold outside, your body can still overheat. Dress in layers, and take plenty of breaks.
  • Have a plan when shoveling. Figure out where the snow is going to go.
  • It’s tempting to say “Why do the job more than once?” and wait for the snow to stop. That’s a perfectly reasonable instinct, and – as we said before – the law doesn’t expect you to have your sidewalk cleared at all times. But if you’re able to clear a smaller amount of snow a few times over the course of a day, you’ll be saving yourself from a really heavy job after the storm.

If you’ve been injured in a fall and think you may have a case, contact Penglase & Benson. Our PA personal injury attorneys have more than six decades of experience in fighting for people who’ve been hurt due to other people’s negligence. Stay safe out there!