Clearing snow from pavements

30 Nov

In Minneapolis residents residents are reminded by the local authority to clear the snow on the pavement (sidewalk). The authority’s website says politely that ‘Keeping our sidewalks free of ice and snow is the neighbourly thing to do’. It then goes on to make it clear that residents that the law “requires that property owners clear sidewalks after the end of a snowfall within 24 hours for houses and duplexes, Four daytime hours for apartment and commercial buildings (daytime hours begin at 8am)”.

In the UK the Telegraph rather unhelpfully reported in January 2010 that “Health and safety experts warn: don’t clear icy pavements, you could get sued”. The government has now made it clear that you can clear snow with a proviso that you should avoid making the pavement more dangerous. It then says: “don’t be put off clearing paths because you’re afraid someone will get injured… Remember, people walking on snow and ice have responsibility to be careful themselves. Follow the advice below to make sure you clear the pathway safely and effectively.”

David Howarth who is a former MP for Cambridge and a former lecturer in Law at Cambridge University goes further. He says “furthermore, in the very unlikely case where the intervention does make the situation more risky, it is not enough to show that the passer-by fell over. The passer-by would have to show that he would not have fallen over anyway, or would not have injured himself just as badly in some other way – something that is very hard to do”.

He goes on the say “Finally, even if the risk was made worse and the injury was caused specifically by the enhancement of the risk that the householder was responsible for, there is still no liability unless the passer-by can prove that the householder acted in an unreasonable way. Since most people think, as you and I do, that it is perfectly reasonable to clear the snow from the pavement outside one’s house, even if the case had not been thrown out previously, it would fail on this point.” Finally that “There is no known case of anyone in this country ever being sued successfully in these circumstances“.

He signs off saying “There is no need for a change in the law. What we need instead is a change in the quality of the people who write and edit newspapers“!

So, get clearing!

One Response to “Clearing snow from pavements”

  1. Izzy February 13, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    There was a case, back in the late ’70s where a chap (let’s call him Mr C) cleared the pavement outside his house – as was the norm at the time. I can remember, as a child, the first thing we did when it snowed was to clear our front garden path and the pavement outside our house. The second thing was to go down the road and clear the path & pavement for our elderly neighbour. Anyway, Mr C clears the pavement. Then another chap (let’s call him Mr S because I can’t recall either of their names) comes along, slips on a small piece of ice that Mr C has left on the pavement and sues Mr C. The case goes to court, and the judge (or possible the magistrate) says that snow is a natural phenomena and, therefore, nobody can be held responsible if you slip in snow. But, as Mr C had cleared the pavement, he was responsible for Mr S slipping over. As a result, Mr S received some sum of damages and Mr C paid a fine. Mr C did have the chance to appeal this decision but, much to the regret of pedestrians everywhere, he decided not to go to appeal, and the ruling stands.

    However, this ruling was made in a very low, so it did not set legal precedence (i.e. if you slipped on a pavement somebody had cleared, you could not point to this case and say, “Aha! You’re negligent! Pay up!” You’d have to go to court again, and prove your own case.) But it did receive a lot of publicity (and, if you want to track it down, I suggest you search old newspapers first) and, as a result, the next Winter virtually everybody stopped clearing the pavement.

    So, while I agree we could do with a high standard of journalism, the fear of being sued does have its roots in a court case. However, as David Howarth says, if you take reasonable care when you clear the pavement you will be able to defend any court case a pedestrian cares to bring.

    The bigger problem is, who wants the hassle of going to court?

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