Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slippery Advice Lawyers Weigh in on How Safe It Is to Shovel Your Sidewalk and Steps

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Slippery Advice Lawyers Weigh in on How Safe It Is to Shovel Your Sidewalk and Steps

Article excerpt

To shovel or not to shovel that is the question.

Heaped on top of all the other worries that this weather brings is the issue of individual responsibility for clearing steps, walkways and driveways on your property.

Even if you are lucky enough to stay indoors, you have to think of the letter carrier, the trash haulers and the neighbor out walking her dog. Or do you? Yes - and no. A random sampling of legal opinions Wednesday reaped both answers to the complex question. "It all comes down to what your mother always told you. If you're going to do the job, then do it right," said Richard Faulstich, a lawyer with Alvin A. Wolff Jr. and Associates. If you set out to clear a path and you do it half-heartedly, he said, you may create even more treacherous conditions that could cause someone to fall. In that case, you would be liable. On the other hand, if someone decides to tromp through ice-covered snow on your property and falls, you might not be liable because of what lawyers call "assumption of risk." Faulstich spoke of a case of a driver parked in a lot that was only partly cleared. She parked in the snowy part. She fell on the way back to her car, but it was considered her fault because she chose where to park. "The tenet of common law is that if you create a hazardous condition, you're responsible. If your gutter discharges water onto the driveway and the water freezes, that's your fault. If it rains and the temperature drops and the rain freezes, that's not your fault," he said. Faulstich said he had heard on television that legally, it was OK not to shovel snow on your property. Mike Swafford, a lawyer with Brown and Crouppen, said he is probably the guy Faulstich heard. The law in Missouri says there is no legal obligation to remove "natural accumulations" of snow and ice, Swafford said. "On a day like today, you can let it pile up 12 feet high," he said Wednesday afternoon. "If a person falls and breaks a hip on your property, they can make no claim against you." In Illinois, a state statute says that if the ice and snow are creating a dangerous condition that is "open and obvious," homeowners are not responsible if someone gets hurt. …

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