A Winter Wonderland of Liability

Snow, sleigh bells, lights, a race across the street and a hard fall onto an unplowed walkway is all part of winter in Chicago. Even in the isolated world of Covid-19, a snowfall mixed with a waning desire to shovel provides all the ingredients for a premise liability lawsuit filed against you. “Living in a crowded city like Chicago is always challenging,” says Jeffrey Kroll, Partner with Kaveny + Kroll Trial Attorneys in Chicago (www.kavenykroll.com),specializing in premise liability and personal injury. “But, when you add in the elements of winter, our usual roadways and walkways can become hazardous.”

Kroll cautions drivers to be extra aware once the temperatures begin to dip. “More often than not, those who are braving the elements will cross streets in the shortest amount of time/space possible, even if that means jaywalking or coming out from behind parked cars.”

And, while many find that they don’t have the time or energy to clear their property and sidewalk after a snow or ice storm, Kroll reminds us that in Chicago, shoveling is more than just an afterthought…it’s the law.“Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or person in charge of any home, building or lot of ground in the city that touches a sidewalk or public way is responsible for removing snow and ice from a 5-foot-wide portion of the sidewalk, according to Section 10-8-180 of Chicago’s Municipal Code” says Kroll. “This responsibility is in effect seven days a week and requires paths to be clear of snow by 10 am the morning after an overnight snowfall or 10 pm following one that occurs during the day.”

The sidewalk snow regulations affect all home, business, and property owners. Business owners that rent space adjacent to sidewalks are responsible for shoveling snow as well. Some landlords for residential and commercial property hold tenants responsible for snow clearance as a part of their lease agreements. Renters who aren’t certain of their shoveling responsibilities should check their rental agreements or ask their landlords for clarification. If you on a corner lot, you must remove snow and ice from sidewalks on all sides of your building and from corner sidewalk ramps. This applies to residential property and business owners. The city also prohibits shoveling snow into any right of way including bus stops, divvy stations or any situation where the snow would impede traffic of any kind.

“This ordinance was created in order to ease the burden on those who may be facing mobility challenges, particularly when it comes to navigating snow filled or icy thoroughfares, including children, older adults and those with any disabilities,” says Kroll. “This is a shared community responsibility to assure safe passage for everyone, regardless of the weather conditions. And, by helping others, you protect yourself from the threat of liability should someone fall on your property.”

Not being a good neighbor comes with a price tag as well. Fines ranging from $50 to $500 can be attached to tickets issued by Chicago’s Department of Transportation, who employ inspectors to check for problems and follow up on complaints made to the city’s 311 hotline. “Frankly, the fines can be the least of your problems,” says Kroll. “A face plant on an icy patch of your sidewalk or driveway can result in a premise liability suit which can be quite costly depending on the severity of injuries suffered. And, in all honesty,with Covid-19 raging in our city, no one wants to end up in an emergency room from an avoidable fall.”

Kroll recommends that even if you are not in the mental or physical condition to take on shoveling duties, consider hiring an individual or a service to stay in compliance with the law and the possibility of further liability. “At the end of a snowy day, you are far better off safe and shoveled.”