This winter we were all introduced to the “bomb cyclone” that hit the New York Area with freezing cold weather and more than a foot of snow in some areas. Those of us who live on Long Island are used to dealing with snow and ice. We get our snow blowers and shovels out and we clear our sidewalks from snow and put down salt to make sure we don’t have slippery sidewalks. Yet, how many of us think about personal injury law while we are shoveling? How many of us let the law dictate when we start shoveling? I myself always try and make sure that the front of my house is clear and safe to walk on to avoid anyone from injuring themselves, but at work I deal with slip and fall lawsuits all the time.
Do you shovel the snow while it is still coming down or do you wait for the snow to stop before shoveling the sidewalks? From a legal standpoint it might make more sense to wait till after the storm is over. In New York there is a doctrine called the “storm in progress doctrine”. This doctrine reflects practical concerns relating to the challenges and dangers of maintaining property in reasonably safe conditions during inclement weather. It allows people a reasonable amount of time to clean their property after the storm has stopped and will possibly remove the liability from the property owner if someone slips and injures themselves during the snowstorm. If you start clearing the snow during the storm you might be responsible for any injuries that occur if someone falls while the storm is still in progress. In other words, if you try and clear the snow in middle of the storm you might forfeit the protections of the “storm in progress” rule. By clearing the snow in middle of the storm you might possibly be held to a reasonableness standard as if you were shoveling after the storm and therefore you could be held responsible for creating a hazardous condition or exacerbating a hazard created by the storm. If you cleaned the sidewalk during the storm and someone slipped on your property while it is still snowing then you can possibly be held liable for the injuries since it might be your fault that the hazardous condition was created. You might be better off waiting till the storm stops and then making sure you do everything a reasonable person would do to make sure their sidewalks are safe and clean.
So the next time we get hit by a snowstorm, sit back and relax until the storm is over and then go out, shovel and maybe even build a snowman.