Similar to many other legal questions relating to slip and fall injuries, the question of if stores have to remove snow and ice from their property depends on the state law. There are many states and counties that have laws that require property owners to remove the snow or ice from their property within a certain amount of time. The majority of states (or at least cities within those states) do have laws stating that property owners are responsible for the removal of snow and ice from their property, but they tend to have different time limits for how long the property owner has to do so and different stipulations about when it is and is not required. Some laws detail that the owner must take reasonable action to clear a path while others are more specific in time and what determines action. For example, New York City law declares that while objections are not allowed when the snow is still falling, a property owner has to clear off snow and ice from the property’s sidewalks, next to bus stops, and fire hydrants and the amount of time in which property owners must do so depends upon the time that the snowfall ends, ranging from four to fourteen hours. In one city in Arizona, in comparison, either the owners, those who are on the lease, or the residents of a property have 24 hours to remove snow from bordering public walkways.
If a property is being rented or leased out in an area with snow and ice removal legislation, there should be a clause about the snow removal in the contract between the involved parties to avoid conflict. The property owner, however, is typically mentioned in the law and may face consequences—even despite the renting situation—if the legal obligations regarding snow and ice are not fulfilled unless the law states otherwise. Legal issues can also occur if the legally obliged party’s actions to remove the snow or ice actually cause more danger, such as packing the snow into a slippery ice sheet. As stores and property-occupying businesses fall into the category of property owners or those with a contract regarding property, in many places, stores would be legally required to remove the snow and ice from their property. Professional services can be hired in order to fulfill the requirements of the law rather than the owner having to take personal care of it, and these services would most likely then be responsible after for any following injury under the reasoning that they did not perform the service correctly.
Most of these laws for snow and ice removal are in place in order for there to be a clear and safe path for the pedestrians, and therefore, the property owner can be held liable under the law if someone were to be injured on their property due to ice or snow on the property owner’s sidewalk. In the case of an accident, a party may have to prove that there was reasonable effort in the attempt at snow removal to not be charged as negligent and at fault for an injury. Specifically, in Massachusetts, the law formerly stated that a property owner was not at fault if a natural build up of snow or ice caused an injury, but the law was later overturned and changed to a measure of reasonable effort. Not only can property owners across the nation now be held liable for accidents in specific circumstances, but there is also the potential for other legal consequences, such as fines and even imprisonment in drastic cases. To avoid these consequences, property owners, including stores, should familiarize themselves with the snow and ice removal laws in both their city and state, and pedestrians should also be aware of these laws in case of any accident.