As the snow piles up and the temperature drops, safety becomes a huge concern for Wisconsinites. Driving cautiously, layering up, and staying indoors are some of the obvious precautions, but homeowners and property managers have to take it a step further to prevent winter accidents.
Although we cannot control the weather, it is important for homeowners to take the necessary steps to help ensure their sidewalks, driveways, and porches are safe for pedestrians. Slip-and-fall cases can be serious for all parties involved, so what responsibilities should property owners take to prevent accidents?
First, it should be noted that these responsibilities are owed to two different entities: the city/town and the general public. Homeowners should be aware of the city or town ordinances surrounding snow and ice removal. For example, within the City of Madison, the homeowner adjacent to the public sidewalk is responsible for all snow and ice removal. This should be done by noon the day after the snow has stopped. If the ice is impossible to remove, then “the homeowner must use sand, salt or other suitable substance to prevent ice from being dangerous.” The consequences for failing to abide by the ordinances are often citations with fines, and invoices for snow removal crews.
As mentioned above, homeowners also owe a duty to the public. These can be people whom you have invited onto your property (friends, pizza delivery, mail delivery) or those who have not been invited onto your property (neighbors, strangers, solicitors). Invited or not, it is still the property owner’s obligation to provide safe premises.
To manage the risks associated with winter weather, the homeowner should show reasonable care in mitigating dangers. Some conditions are completely unavoidable, such as slippery walks during or immediately after a snowstorm. Generally, no one is held liable for that which is unavoidable. The law assumes that a pedestrian is on notice of natural conditions and should take appropriate care to avoid injury.
So what does reasonable care look like for homeowners? Much of reasonable care boils down to common sense. As a homeowner, you should inspect your property in a timely manner after a snowfall. Try to stay on top of the conditions by addressing problems as they occur: remove snow as soon as you can after a snowfall, thoroughly salt or sand any ice that cannot be chipped away, and make sure your paths are as wide as the sidewalk.
Even if you take all the care in the world to try and eliminate hazards, there is always the chance that someone can get hurt. It is important to carry good homeowners insurance and contact an attorney right away in the event of a mishap. At Levine Eisberner LLC, our attorneys are happy to help.