Can You Be Sued if Someone Slips on the Sidewalk Outside Your House?
The Tri-State finds itself under a significant blanket of snow thanks to not one, but two winter weather systems in the course of a few days. Both systems also brought frigid temperatures that will keep the snow around for a while meaning of course driving on roads and simply walking on sidewalks will be more difficult than normal for the foreseeable future. When it comes to those sidewalks, particularly the one in front of your house, keeping it clean could not only keep you and your family from getting hurt, it could also keep you out of legal trouble.
Anytime we have some type of winter weather that leads to slick sidewalks, people start to wonder whether or not they could be responsible for covering the cost of a stranger's injuries if said stranger slipped and fell on their part of the sidewalk. It's a good question, but before we can answer that, we have to figure out who the sidewalk actually belongs to.
To be clear before we dive in further, when I say "sidewalk," I'm referring to one that would separate your yard from a public road like the ones pictured in this random neighborhood I pulled from Google Maps
Now that we're (hopefully) clear on that, the answer as to who it belongs to can be different depending on what city you live in. More times than not they are considered city property, but that doesn't necessarily get you off the hook if someone were to slip and hurt themselves on it.
The city you live in also will determine who's responsible for keeping it clean. In Chicago, the city takes care of snow removal. In Evansville, that responsibility falls on you, the homeowner (or whoever owns your property if you rent) according to City Code 12.05.170. This also applies to businesses owners.
To find out if you're responsible for clearing the sidewalk in the city or town in the Tri-State you live in, call your local government offices and ask if you can't find the answer through Google, which is entirely possible, especially in smaller towns.
For the purpose of this article, let's say that you are responsible for getting the snow and ice off your stretch of the sidewalk so we can answer the main question; can you be sued, or "held liable," if someone slips on it because you haven't cleared it. The answer is — yes. But, that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to find yourself going to court and paying out a boatload of cash.
If you've done absolutely nothing to the sidewalk after the snow or other winter weather event ended that caused to be slippery in the first place, then there is a chance a judge could side with injured person because you clearly didn't do anything to prevent it. However, if can be proven that you attempted to clear it at some point, you could be OK.
You could still be OK even if you try, but can't clear it because it's so cold and the ice is stuck on their really good. The same Evansville City Code that determines who's responsible for keeping clean I referenced earlier also states that if the snow and ice cannot be removed for those reasons, among others, "the person responsible for the sidewalk shall sprinkle the sidewalk with a material such as sand, salt, or sawdust so as to make the sidewalk safe to walk on." Of course, someone could still slip, fall, and hurt themselves even if one of those materials have been applied, but it shows you attempted to make it safer to walk on.
Bottom line, it's better to be safe than sorry. If you have trouble finding out what the code is in your town, err on the side of caution. If not for the safety of others, at least for your own. Nobody wants to try and get to the hospital for a broken arm or leg when the roads are covered in snow or ice, especially when the injury could have been avoided in the first place.