After the snowfall, the owner is granted a reasonable amount of time to clear the snow and ice and to make a path.
The owner does not have to shovel until the snow stops. For example, if the snow stopped at 9 am and if the victim fell at 9:30 am, it is likely that a court would hold that the owner was not obligated to shovel since a reasonable time did not pass from the end of the storm. However, if the victim fell at 4 pm, many hours after the snow’s end, then the owner could be liable for failing to take reasonable steps to clear a path.
Furthermore, liability on the owner would depend upon the considerations set forth in the article on page 1, “Who is Responsible for the Sidewalk?” If the victim fell in front of a single family home occupied by the owner, then New York City would be liable. However, if the owner does something to cause or contribute to the condition, then the private homeowner can be found liable.
For example, if the building has a drain which drains water to the sidewalk, and the water freezes to ice, then the owner will be liable for causing or contributing an icy sidewalk.
Even where the adjoining property owner would be protected from liability based on the City Code, if the owner had a special use of the sidewalk, then he may be liable. For example, if a one-family home had a driveway, and the use of the driveway caused the ice and snow to be dragged onto the sidewalk by a car, then the one-family homeowner could be liable for a fall in the driveway.
The owner has an ongoing obligation to clean the sidewalk. If the snow melts and the water then freezes, the owner must salt and remove the ice even if this becomes a daily occurrence.
With ice cases, we urge early investigation. In the past we have been able to get to the scene in time to photograph the snow and ice before melting.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
(Based on real questions from clients)
Q: I fell on ice on the sidewalk right in front of the entrance of my employer’s office building. My employer is one of many businesses in the building. Who is responsible?
A: The building owner would have the responsibility for keeping the sidewalk clear. Your claim would be against the landlord.
Q: Would I have a case against my employer? I was coming to work.
A: While you would not have a lawsuit against your employer in the courts, in addition to a case against the building owner you may have a workers’ compensation claim against your employer. Your entry and exit into the office building would be covered as a work-related activity even though your employer was not obligated to clear the sidewalk.
Q: I slipped on ice on a sidewalk which was not cleared. It was in front of a two family home. Who is responsible?
A: If the owner occupies one of the units and if the building is solely residential, then the City would be responsible. However, if there is a commercial enterprise in the building, such as a doctor’s office, then the private owner would be liable.
Q: I fell on a sidewalk at the beginning of the storm when there were snow flurries. It appears that there was neither collected snow nor ice which caused my fall. Would I have a case?
A: No. First, the owner has no obligation to shovel during the storm. Second, you must show a dangerous condition that caused you to fall. It appears that neither condition was met.
Q: I fell on ice in the street, i.e., the road. Who is responsible?
A: The City of New York owns the streets, and it would be responsible.