In general, the property owner is required to remove ice and snow from sidewalks on their property, usually within 24 hours of the weather event that caused the snow and ice. The grace period varies by city, however, and in some cities, it is as short as 12 hours after the snowfall. This also applies to private business owners. In Yakima, city code requires property owners to mitigate the snow and ice by 9 a.m. of the day following the winter weather event. However, the code does allow the use of sand or other slippage-reducing materials if removal is not possible by that time. The city of Kennewick doesn’t list a specific time but says it should be removed as soon as possible and advises property owners to remove snow as soon as it stops falling to prevent ice from forming.
Usually, the only time a government entity (city or county) is responsible for removing snow and ice is if the snow and ice are on properties maintained by that government entity. That means private sidewalks and alleys are not usually the government’s responsibility.
Where Can Property Owners Move Excess Snow?
In the event of snowfall, especially a snowstorm that drops a considerable amount of snow, property owners (including business owners) need to remove snow that blocks sidewalks and other types of walkways, as well as parking areas. Property that sits on a corner not only needs to clear the sidewalks but the curb cutouts that allow pedestrians and wheelchair users to enter crosswalks to cross the streets.
But that excess snow cannot be dumped into adjacent streets or alleys, nor can it be pushed onto adjacent sidewalks or parking areas. Instead, it should be piled into an area not generally used for walking, driving, or parking, such as a yard. If this is not done properly, the property owner can be assessed fines even if no one slips and falls. That can be tricky for a property with no yard or a tiny one.
What Rights Do I Have if I’m Injured on a Slippery Sidewalk?
This is a complex area of personal injury law, not least because the laws vary from city to city and county to county. It’s also complicated due to the varying ownership of sidewalks and who’s responsible for clearing them. Every incident is unique, and that’s why we recommend contacting our office for a free consultation about your situation as soon as the injury occurs. Our experience and knowledge can help determine what your rights are and what damages may be due to you.
One of the most significant determining factors in claiming personal injury is negligence. If the property owner in question made a reasonable effort to clear the sidewalk and put out sand or another substance to make the surface less slippery, they might claim that the injury isn’t their fault. Understandably, many people think negligence is something done deliberately. An example would be a property owner refusing to clear their sidewalk even though they know it’s their responsibility. However, negligence can also happen through a lack of knowledge. A property owner may shovel the sidewalk and not notice black ice has formed (black ice being hard to see at times) and not take proper precautions. Just because they didn’t see it doesn’t mean they’re not potentially liable.
However, a court may find that the property owner’s actions were reasonable and they’d done the best they could. Not every injury due to ice or snow is a slam dunk in court, and that’s another reason bringing an experienced personal injury attorney in is strongly advised.
What Is Comparative Negligence?
An additional source of complexity in these cases is the fact that Washington state is a comparative negligence state. That means responsibility and liability for personal injury cases, including slips and falls resulting in injuries, can be apportioned out to both sides. For example, if you sue someone for not clearing or mitigating ice from the sidewalk, they could claim that they have security camera footage of you walking too fast or not looking where you were going. That could mean you’re partially liable for your injuries and not likely to get a full settlement.
What Should I Do if I’m Injured Due to Snow or Ice on a Sidewalk?
Call us at 509-638-1414 to request a free consultation as soon as possible. If you receive calls from the insurance company representing the property owner where the injury occurred or from the property owner’s attorney, don’t talk to either of them. They represent the property owner and will act on the owner’s behalf, not yours. Either one may try to get you to say something that would indicate the injury was your fault, not the property owner’s. In addition, the insurance company rep has the goal of paying out as little as possible, which means they might offer a settlement that’s much lower than what you could get with negotiation. Working with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who understands these tactics and knows what kinds of damages you could be eligible for is acting in your own best interests.
If you’ve been injured, it’s crucial that you see a doctor right away. But it’s also important to understand that injuries don’t always surface immediately. You could appear to be fine right after the accident, but symptoms may not appear until days later. If that’s the case, a subsequent doctor’s visit is advised so that there’s a medical record tying the slow-surfacing symptoms to the accident.