As Published in The Times Reporter Newspaper, New Philadelphia
Real Estate Weekly, February 17, 2007
Now that winter has hit the area in full force, homeowners have likely been daunted with the task of removing snow and ice from their sidewalks. A question that always arises is who will be liable if someone is injured by snow and ice on a homeowner’s sidewalk. Ohio law has consistently held that an owner of property is not liable for injuries to those who slip and fall on natural accumulations of ice and snow. The law recognizes that an owner of property has a right to assume that his visitors will appreciate the risk of snow and ice and take action to protect themselves accordingly. As a result, in Ohio “a homeowner has no common law duty to remove or make less hazardous a natural accumulation of ice and snow on private sidewalks or walkways on the homeowner’s premises or to warn those who enter upon the premises of the inherent dangers presented by natural accumulations of ice and snow.”
However, there are certain exceptions to this law. These protections to do not apply to unnatural accumulations of ice and snow. Unnatural accumulations refer to causes and factors such as man-made or man-caused, and not inclement weather, low temperature, strong winds, heavy snowstorms or drifting snow. Unnatural accumulations have been found to exist where ice forms from a canopy dripping onto a sidewalk. Also, leaking gutters resulting in ice on the sidewalk can also be considered an unnatural accumulation.
Homeowners can also be found liable when they have superior knowledge of a particular hazard. That is, if the homeowner is aware numerous individuals being injured in a particular area, the homeowner must take action to remedy the hazard. Additionally, homeowners should consult their local city ordinances to determine whether or not their municipality has any ordinance to remove snow or ice.
A homeowner may also be liable when the hazard is substantially more dangerous than a natural accumulation of snow and ice. Some sidewalks although not dangerous when visible, could be considered substantially more dangerous in the wintertime as the cracks and holes of concrete may be hidden under snow and ice.
As a result, this could constitute a situation where a homeowner may be found liable for failing to remove snow or ice.
Another issue that arises for homeowners is whether or not they should make any effort to remove snow. Although homeowners have no duty to remove snow, they commonly do so as a convenience to their neighbors. Homeowners who remove snow are under a duty to act as a reasonable person, and thus they must exercise some diligence in how they remove the snow and ice. For example, homeowners should not pile drifts of snow over ditches or holes resulting in hidden dangers.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.