Housing Complex

Is Your Icy Sidewalk a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen?


Personally, I would never sue someone if I slipped on ice in front of their home. I don't know anyone that would do such a thing. Certainly, not my family members.  And my co-workers don't appear to be very litigious people.

But as we're all aware, some people out there don't mind lawyering up at, say, the drop of an ass cheek on an icy patch of concrete.  And because of their threat, we must endure questions like the one the Washington Post's Benny Kass answered this weekend: Can I be held accountable if someone falls in front of my house?

The answer—as often is the case with questions of law—is maybe. First off, D.C. homeowners are expected to shovel sidewalks in front of their houses. "The District requires homeowners to 'remove and clear away' the snow and sleet from their front sidewalks 'within the first eight hours of daylight after the ceasing to fall of any snow or sleet,'" according to Kass.

And what if you don't, and someone ends up with a broken hip a few feet from your front door? "Negligence is another matter," Kass writes. Here's more:

"If a homeowner has made the sidewalk more hazardous by creating ice bumps or has let the snow and ice sit for days after a storm ends, that homeowner may be liable for injuries sustained by a pedestrian.

In the District, the law is evolving. Although the D.C. Court of Appeals has never specifically ruled that a homeowner will be held liable for making the sidewalk more hazardous, a recent Superior Court case has opened the door for such a ruling. Judge Neal Kravitz, in a case decided Aug. 7, held that because the plaintiff alleged negligence on the part of the homeowner, the case would not be dismissed and would go forward for a jury trial.

Bottom line, the plaintiff will have to "prove that the property owner knew (or should have known) that the storm created a dangerous condition and that the owner was negligent." So don't worry about what happens when you're out of town over Christmas.

Image by Grantsview, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License