There’s No Business Like Snow Business
James W. Cushing, Esq. on 4/7/2010
About The Author
Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C.
The winter of 2009–2010 saw the
There are two basic ways a property owner can be liable for the snow on his property: the first is a violation of City ordinance and the second is in a tort action. Obviously, both could be present in a single matter; however a violation of the City ordinance does not necessarily guarantee tort liability for the property owner, nor does a violation of a City ordinance guarantee tort liability.
The requirements of the Philadelphia City Code are pretty straightforward regarding property owners’ responsibility for the snow on their property. According to Philadelphia Code §10-720, a property owner must shovel a thirty inch (30”) wide path on their sidewalks within six (6) hours after the cessation of snow fall. The ordinance requires that the thirty inch (30”) wide path be thoroughly cleared of snow and ice. “Where the width of any pavement measured from the property line to the curb is less than 3 (three) feet, the path cleared may be only 12 inches in width. When the building in question is a multifamily dwelling the owner or his agent shall be responsible for compliance with the requirements of this section.” (quoting the above citation). Of course, when shoveling the snow, one may not dump the snow into the street; so doing is also a violation of this ordinance. If the City successfully tickets a property owner for a violation of §10-720, the property owner is liable to be fined between $50 and $300 per violation.
Whether one violates a City ordinance does not necessarily have any bearing on whether a property owner could be liable in tort to an individual who is injured due to the accumulation of snow and ice on his property. Like many issues sounding in tort, the standards by which liability is measured are somewhat flexible and based on common law determinations of what is and is not reasonable. Tort liability for snow and ice accumulation on one’s property falls into the somewhat nebulous and imprecise “hills and ridges” standard. Essentially,
Clearly, then, while the standards for tort liability and a violation of the City ordinance certainly overlap, they are not exactly the same. Snow can certainly last more than six (6) hours after a snowfall and remain in smooth pristine condition. In other words, one could be in violation of the City ordinance for failing to shovel snow on one’s sidewalk, but not necessarily be liable for damages in tort if someone fell on that very same snow. That is primarily due to the fact that the City ordinance and the action in tort each exist for a slightly different purpose. The liability in a tort action is to ensure people take reasonable care of their property. Not every municipality has the same standards as
Although the winter of 2009–2010 has likely seen the last of the snow, when it returns in the future, it is important to ensure compliance with City ordinances and shoveling it within a reasonable time. Otherwise, it will be over the hills and ridges and through the woods to liability they go for property owners!
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