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Sidewalk of shame: Who is responsible for clearing sidewalks in the winter?

Winter. That word—at least in the Northeast—immediately brings to mind the image of staring out
a window, drinking hot chocolate, watching the snow over a winter wonderland.
But, back in reality, who is responsible for clearing all that magical snow from sidewalks before someone slips and
falls? The most logical answer is that the municipality that installed and owns the sidewalk would be responsible
for its snow and ice removal.
Unfortunately, that usually is the wrong answer in Connecticut.
The state of Connecticut has granted individual municipalities the authority to create their own policies on who is
responsible for removing snow and ice from sidewalks. It should come as no surprise that, virtually, all municipalities
in Connecticut have enacted ordinances that place this responsibility squarely on the property owners located adjacent
to the sidewalks. The reason for placing the responsibility on individual property owners was not to get out of
the backbreaking work, but instead to shift liability of a slip-and-fall to the property owner.
If property owners are liable for failing to remove snow, what does that mean? Do they need to quit their jobs during
the winter just to patrol their sidewalks and ensure no wayward snowflakes reach the ground? No, they do not. Property
owners are not held strictly liable for any slip-and-fall that occurs on their snowy sidewalks. Instead, the principles
of premise liability apply, which state that property owners are liable for harm only if they failed to act reasonably to
keep their property safe. For example, traditionally, courts have decided that it would not be reasonable to require people
to patrol their property actively for any sign of snow. The common law—law created by courts—in Connecticut, states
that a property owner does not have a responsibility to clear snow while it is actively falling.
Instead, property owners are given a reasonable amount of time to remove the snow. What is reasonable? The
answer can vary widely depending on the municipality. For example, Hartford requires snow to be removed within six
hours of the end of a storm. Meanwhile, Mystic grants property owners 24 hours to clear the snow. It’s important to check
your municipality’s ordinance to see what it requires.
With the responsibility and liability of snow removal on the property owner, it is imperative to have the proper
homeowners coverage, if and when an accident occurs. Contact our office today to discuss your coverage options.