As the Midwest and the East Coast get hammered by blizzards, it's a good time to talk about premises liability. More to the point, what is a homeowner's responsibility with respect to shoveling (or not shoveling) snow on driveways and sections of sidewalk in front of one's house?
Some homeowners refuse to shovel snow not because they're lazy but because they believe it actually increases their chance of getting slapped with a slip-and-fall lawsuit.
It sounds crazy but is it really true?
An article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch attempted to dispel that myth. Yes, you can be sued for not maintaining a reasonably safe walkway on your premises; and no, you're not less likely to be sued if you simply refuse.
A Chicago ordinance requiring residents to shovel snow in front of their homes was not enforced last year, Mayor Richard Daley told Chicago Tribune reporters. The article doesn't explain exactly what the legal ramifications are for snow-borne slip-and-fall accidents and Illinois law is murky in that area.
Missouri law, like Illinois law, does not hold homeowners responsible the consequences of weather, which would include snowfall. Attorney John Michener, who defends property owners from such lawsuits, explained:
"They don't call that an act of God, but it is the same concept. No person is responsible for general natural accumulation."
But an "unnatural" accumulation of snow or ice, perhaps caused by a snowblower or spilled water that has frozen into a glaze of slippery ice, is another story. In those instances you may want to consult with an Illinois injury attorney.
Here's another catch: If the walkway has developed patches of ice due to the homeowner walking back and forth on a snowy walkway, then is no longer considered its "natural state," John Michener explained. Therefore, it opens the homeowner up to liability should a visitor slip and fall, resulting in injury.
Talk to a Chicago injury lawyer for more information.