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? In New Jersey, that is pretty straight forward, until it’s not.

Under New Jersey common law, sidewalks are considered public property and a property owner has no responsibility for clearing the snow from them. Since property owners have no responsibility to clear snow, they also have no liability if someone were to fall on the sidewalk because of the snow. However, there is one notable exception for which liability would fall on the property owner.

If a property owner does decide to remove snow and ice from a sidewalk—and does so negligently—he or she could be liable for a slip-and-fall that occurs on the sidewalk. For example, if a property owner clears a narrow path through the sidewalk, which subsequently freezes and causes the sidewalk to become more slippery and dangerous than if he or she didn’t remove the snow, the property owner would be liable if someone slips and falls on the sidewalk.

Of course, there is more to this sidewalk story.

While the state of New Jersey does not require property owners to clear sidewalks, many New Jersey municipalities do. For example, Trenton requires owners to remove snow from sidewalks within 12 hours of the end of a snowstorm. Many other New Jersey municipalities have a similar 12-hour rule. It’s important to check your municipality’s ordinance to see what is required. If property owners fail to remove the snow from their sidewalks, they could not only be fined, but may be liable for any injuries that are caused by failure to remove snow. Also, be aware that these rules apply to public sidewalks. Private pathways—found in some housing communities and upon which the public is prohibited—may have different rules entirely, which likely are set by a housing association or similar organization.

When property owners are responsible for removing snow from their sidewalk, and they could be liable for a slip-and-fall if they remove the snow poorly, it’s imperative to have the proper homeowners coverage, if and when an accident occurs. Contact our office today to discuss your coverage options.

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