Since you are reading this blog, you probably live in or near Orange County, NY. In that case, you are ready for winter which, as we are learning as 2017 arrives, will have snow and ice. What follows is a discussion snow and ice injury liability and the rights and responsibilities of those of us who will encounter a snow or ice condition, either as a pedestrian walking on property or as the owner of that very property.
Snow and Ice Injury Liability – Property Owner
In New York State, the owner of any piece of property has an obligation to keep it reasonably safe. If you own your home or perhaps a multi-family dwelling or place of business and someone is walking on the snow or ice on your sidewalk and falls, you may be liable. This has limits, however. The owner or lessee of property abutting a public sidewalk is under no duty to remove ice and snow that naturally accumulates upon the public [as opposed to a private]sidewalk unless a statute or ordinance specifically imposes tort liability for failing to do so. There can often be little-known statutes in your town that impose snow and ice injury liability; it can pay to find out! In the absence of a statute or ordinance imposing tort liability on the owner or lessee, they can be held liable only if they, or someone on their behalf, undertook snow and ice removal efforts which made the naturally-occurring conditions more hazardous.
It Stopped Snowing. What should I do?
A common question is: it has recently stopped snowing, what can or should I do? This inquiry comes from those who want to walk outside as well as those who own property, a driveway, a sidewalk or other path where those who want to will indeed walk. As has been mentioned above, the area needs to be kept reasonably safe. But the law provides that a property owner is given a reasonable period of time following the end of a storm to allow the owner an opportunity to ameliorate the hazards caused by the storm. To be sure, a property owner will not be held responsible for accidents occurring as a result of the accumulation of snow and ice during a storm in progress.
What is a reasonable period of time? Well, that is what juries decide every day across the state of New York. Did it just stop snowing a few minutes ago and you want to go out; probably not enough time. Did the last flake fall over 24 hours ago and you haven’t cleaned it yet; probably too much time. The amount of precipitation, recorded in official weather records, are key factors.
Snow and Ice – Accident
So, you are involved in an accident, what should you do? If you are the property owner, whether it’s a one family house or a huge mall, you should, as soon as “practicable”, notify your insurance company. If thereafter your policy is in effect and you get sued, you must send the summons and complaint to the insurer; they will take it from there including providing you with legal counsel.
If, on the other hand, you are the person who fell due to a snow and/or ice condition and you sustain injuries, get care and treatment for yourself. While you might be able to obtain compensation later, money is secondary; getting better should be your first concern. If you want quality legal representation, we are here for that.
If you have questions about an accident involving a snow and ice condition, we can give you some seasoned advice.
Robert M. Lefland is Senior Counsel with the firm and practices Personal Injury and Appellate Practice. He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.