We thought we could avoid winter’s punch, but Mother Nature has her own ideas. Today’s a snow day and there’s more to come.

Should I shovel or not? What do you do with the snow that’s on the sidewalk in front of your house, business, or on your property? Do you really have to shovel it clean?

Great questions and the answers depend on where the snow is and where your property is located. Do you live in Brooklyn or Queens? Nassau County? Town of Oyster Bay or Town of Hempstead? What about the Village of Mineola? Where you live determines what your legal obligations are.

The issue of safety following a snowstorm is critical. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control keeps statistics on all kinds of injuries. Data from 2013 reflects that unintentional falls (such as slipping on snow and ice) are the leading cause of nonfatal injury across all age groups, except for ages between 10 and 24. For this age group, falls are the second leading cause of nonfatal injury.

New York law requires property owners to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. If someone gets hurt because the property isn’t maintained properly, the owner can be held responsible for someone’s injuries. When it comes to snow and ice on your property, it’s necessary to shovel and make the area reasonably safe.

The public sidewalk in front of your home or business doesn’t belong to you but is often owned by the City, Town, or Village in which you live. Do the same rules apply and do you have to maintain the public sidewalk abutting your property?

Generally, the duty to maintain the public sidewalk in front of your property, including cleaning snow and ice, belongs to the municipality. Most local codes require the abutting property owner to maintain the sidewalk and keep it clear of snow and ice–but if someone were to slip and fall because the snow and ice weren’t properly cleaned, the injured party wouldn’t be able to bring a claim against the property owner.

The underlying legal theory is that unless the owner has created a more dangerous condition, the owner doesn’t have a duty of care to the injured party–only the municipality has that duty because of its ownership of the sidewalk. An owner could do nothing and not be responsible for the dangerous snow and ice conditions on the sidewalk.

But does it really make sense that the abutting property owner has no responsibility for someone’s injury? Can a property owner really do nothing?

The answer depends on where you live. In many municipalities, like the City of York–Queens,Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx & Staten Island, or Villages like Mineola or Towns like Oyster Bay, local ordinances shift liability for these kinds injuries from the municipality to the abutting property owner.

Typical of these liability-shifting ordinances is the City of New York’s code which provides that, “….the owner of real property abutting any sidewalk …..shall be liable for any injury to property or personal injury, including death, proximately caused by the failure of such owner to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition.”

The Town of Oyster Bay Code–which covers communities like Plainview, Syosset, Woodbury, Hicksville, Farmingdale, Massapequa, Bethpage–has a similar provision, not only imposing liability for injuries on property owners, but on tenants as well, “Each owner and occupant of any house or other building…… shall keep the sidewalk in front of the lot or house free from obstruction by snow or ice and icy conditions….. and such owner or occupant ….. shall be liable for any injury or damage by reason of omission, failure or negligence to make, maintain or repair such sidewalk…”

These liability-shifting codes are important to ensure the safety of people using public sidewalks and pathways by directly imposing liability on the abutting property owner–the person best suited to care for these areas and prevent unsafe conditions that could cause serious injuries.

Slip and falls on sidewalks from snow and ice can lead to serious injuries, like broken arms or legs, or serious neck and back conditions. These injuries often involve surgery, lost time from work, expensive medical bills and permanent problems.

A recent case of ours involved a delivery person who tripped and fell on a dangerous condition. She suffered serious back injuries requiring surgery, months of rehab and eventually forced her to retire early, resulting in substantial losses in wages and future retirement benefits.

How would you and your family cope if you slipped and fell on ice as a result of someone’s negligence and were out of work for six months, needed surgery or suffered a permanent restriction? Unintentional falls, such as these, caused by someone’s choice not to properly maintain their property can create serious hardship and crisis for many families.

The law in the area of slip and falls can be complex and “slippery.” We’ll navigate these complexities and help you and your family on the road to recovery and work hard to ensure that you’re fairly compensated if you’ve been injured by someone’s negligence and carelessness.

If you, a family member or close friend have been injured, talk to us about what your rights are and what you can do.

Accidents Happen. But Having a Good Lawyer is No Accident. Call Us. We Can Help. 516-822-7866