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Why Not Shoveling Saves You from Liability Lawsuits

Shovel for snow removalHere is a story from one of our readers that we felt should be shared. Please enjoy.

My sister used to work as a claim adjuster for CVS.  As a claims adjuster, my sister learned a great deal about liability laws and on occasion would share her knowledge.  On one such visit to the family homestead we learned from her that it was actually better for someone not to shovel their driveway and sidewalks to avoid liability charges.  Come again?  How is it better to not shovel your driveway?

The whole discussion stemmed from the fact that our parents’ new next door neighbor was lazy and never took care of their lawn.  At this time a snow storm had just come through two days before and the neighbor across the way still had not shoveled their driveway or sidewalks in front of home.  My parents were not pleased with the lack of courtesy these neighbors showed and feared that others may get hurt from slipping in front of their home.  My father thought they were endangering others by neglecting their property and said it was a lawsuit waiting to happen.  He thought that if someone were to slip and fall in front of their property, then that person could successfully sue his neighbors.  However, my sister informed us this is not true.

Our moral conscience tells us it is, but legal courts say differently.  Under liability laws, “as long as the snow is a normal accumulation and you did nothing to exacerbate the danger”, then one cannot be held responsible for someone falling on their property.  Basically if you do not touch the snow, then you can not be blamed for causing the injury.  In an Ohio case involving a woman seriously injuring herself on her friends un-shoveled driveway, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against plaintiff stating “everyone is assumed to appreciate the risks associated with the natural accumulations of ice and snow and, therefore, everyone is responsible to protect himself or herself”.

Now let us look at an example of someone who is a good neighbor and clears the driveway in front of their home.  What happens if someone were to slip and fall on the driveway and then sue them?  Will they be held liable?  The answer is surprisingly yes they will.  By shoveling the driveway, this person has altered the “normal accumulation” of the snow and thus attributed to the condition of the driveway which resulted in someone else becoming injured.

It does not seem very fair, but nevertheless it is the law.  If you wish to continue being a good neighbor by shoveling your sidewalk and driveway, invest in a sign.  A caution “slippery ground” sign properly displayed in front of your home should protect from any sue-happy opportunists.  It gives invitees proper notice of known dangers.  This way you can be courtesy without being held liable for any unfortunate accidents.