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Attorney Ben Proto - The Musings of a Mad Lawyer

Monday, February 9, 2015

Who Pays When Someone Falls on the Ice or Snow Covered Sidewalk?

Mother nature has once again decided to remind of us what a true—eh, mmm, how can I say this --- not so nice lady she can be, by dumping more snow and ice on our streets, driveways, yards and sidewalks. It’s those pesky snow and ice covered sidewalks that send people flying and falling and getting hurt that cause so many problems and light up lawyers’ eyes.

What is the liability of a property owner, whose property abuts a public sidewalk, when someone slips and falls on a snow or ice covered sidewalk. The Connecticut Supreme Court, in November, 2014, in a case coming from the town of Enfield, Robinson v Cianfarani, 314  Conn 521 (2014), had the opportunity to again discuss the issue of liability as it relates to property owners when a person falls on an ice and snow covered sidewalk.

The Court relied upon its 1937 decision, Willoughby v New Haven, in which it stated that it is the sole responsibility of the municipality to keep its public streets (which includes sidewalks) reasonably safe and that it is not the duty of private property owners to undertake that task. The Court further stated that the only way that the municipality could shift the burden was by statute or ordinance. It took the Connecticut General Assembly 44 years to heed the Court’s advice and, in 1981 it adopted a statutory provision which allows a town to shift the liability to the abutting property owner. See §7-163a C.G.S.

Many towns have adopted this provisions, and, as such, property owners in towns that have adopted the provision, whose property abuts the public sidewalk, will be held liable in the event that someone falls on the sidewalk which runs along their property, if the property owner did not properly maintain the sidewalk for public use. It should be noted, however, that some towns only impose a fine or penalty upon the abutting property owner for failing to keep the sidewalk clear of snow and ice. For those lucky people who live in those towns, that Court has ruled that simply imposing a fine or penalty upon the abutting property owner for not clearing the snow or ice, will not trigger a transfer of liability to the abutting property owner and the town would be the entity that is liable if someone is injured as result of falling on an ice or snow covered sidewalk.  The town must specifically adopt the provisions of §7-163a C.G.S. to have successfully relieved itself of liability.

The moral of the story is, know your town’s local laws. Just about every town has its ordinances online. But regardless of whether liability is with you or the town, be nice to your neighbors and clear the snow from the sidewalks, it makes walking the dog so much easier.

For more information on this, and other legal issues, please contact me at ben@protolawfirm.com

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