A property owner will not be held liable for accidents occurring on his or her property as a result of snow and ice until a reasonable period of time has passed since the end of a storm.
How long is a reasonable period of time? That is typically a question for a jury to determine. That being said, some courts will take the initiative to dismiss certain cases that they feel should never even get to a jury – cases in which, as a matter of law, the defendant-owner did not have a reasonable period of time within which to rectify the unsafe conditions. For example:
A winter storm slows down for a period of time after dumping a significant amount of snow – but more is expected within an hour.
If a defendant in an unsafe sidewalk case can prove that the lull in snow fall was actually part of the same storm, then the courts will deem the fall to have taken place while the storm was in progress – and further hold that there was no duty to clear the sidewalks during the short lull in snowfall. Therefore, anybody who slips and falls in that time interval cannot hold the landowner responsible.
Sometimes there are conflicts among different courts as to the appropriate length of time required to clear a sidewalk. There have been cases where 2.5 hours was deemed enough time — if the storm was during the day and the property owner was available to shovel. On the other end of the spectrum, there have been cases that even 4 hours was not enough time to clear the sidewalk. For example, if a storm ends at 2:00am, and if a person was injured four hours later at 6:00am, is the homeowner expected to have his sidewalks cleared by 6:00am? In this example, the case was dismissed.
When there is a grey area the court will not, as a matter of law, dismiss the case. Instead, the case will be decided by a jury at trial.
Stay tuned for part two.