Winter snow and ice is here: be careful so you don’t get sued for having icy sidewalks

Now that winter officially began on Dec. 21,  two days after a powerful storm dumped almost two feet of snow over Philadelphia and the region, it’s the perfect time for homeowners, renters and business owners to review their responsibilities when it comes to clearing their sidewalks after a snowstorm.

Think no one’s watching if you leave the snow out there and skip the shoveling?  Think again.

Most municipalities have laws requiring that sidewalks be cleared within six hours after a snowstorm so that pedestrians can safely traverse the walks.  What comes after that includes tickets and fines, often starting at $25 per incident and increasing up to as much as $300 for each violation. Check with your local municipality for the rules in your neighborhood.

A man shovels snow from a snow-covered, icy sidewalk.

A man shovels snow from a snow-covered sidewalk in a storm. Image credit: ©

These laws are not there just to annoy homeowners, though many people do feel that way.  Actually, the rules are there to protect you from liability if someone should slip and fall on the snow or ice and then sue you. The laws are to protect homeowners, renters and business people, as well as the pedestrians who are using the sidewalks. Think about how you’d feel if you slipped and fell and were injured while walking on someone else’s uncleared sidewalks.

These kinds of slip and fall injuries are one of the most common types of personal injuries, leading to one of the most common types of lawsuits. For homeowners, it’s definitely something you want to avoid.

In Philadelphia, the rules are very clear,  according to the Streets Department Web site:

“Within six hours of the end of a snowfall or freezing rain, you must clear a path at least 30 inches wide on your sidewalk.  Do not shovel or sweep the snow into the street.  The penalty for violating this regulation can range from a minimum fine of $25 up to $300 for each violation.  To report a sidewalk that has not been cleared, residents my call the Streets Department Customer Affairs Unit at (215) 686-5560.”

For pedestrians, the consequences of inaction  are critical — if property owners don’t clear the sidewalks, then there is no safe path where pedestrians can walk.  It’s an accident waiting to happen, and a preventable one at that.

It’s an important courtesy for everyone involved, and you will avoid lots of legal headaches if you follow these rules. Oh, and when you consider the idea of shoveling the snow from the sidewalks back out into the street, you might want to skip that idea. That’s also against the law, and it’s dangerous for vehicles passing through on your street.  Just put the snow safely onto the grass or between the curb and sidewalk.

Look, winter is here for three more months.  So grin and shovel when it snows, for the good of your neighbors. Have a snowball fight with your kids while you’re all shoveling.

Here’s looking to spring.