19 Feb Should I shovel my driveway or sidewalk when it snows?
Should I shovel my driveway or sidewalk when it snows?
This time of year, many people ask this question. As with most legal questions, it depends. From a criminal standpoint, most municipalities in Missouri require a landowner to clear a dangerous condition, which typically includes snow and ice. Practically, however, very few police officers or city inspectors issue citations for failing to clear snow or ice unless it rises to the level of a dangerous condition.
The more common scenario is from a civil standpoint where someone falls on property and sues the landowner. People say “I heard it’s better to leave the snow and ice alone that way there is no liability”. This is a myth. There is a duty in Missouri to clear your property of dangerous conditions, which can be snow and ice. However, that does not mean you are required to go out there while it is snowing and clear the accumulation as it falls. Missouri uses the “Massachusetts rule”, which broadly states “there is no duty to remove snow or ice that (1) accumulates naturally and (2) is a condition general to the community.”
The key is it must be natural accumulation and it must be a general condition in the community. In terms of #1 (natural accumulation), if the snow starts to melt and then refreezes, the landowner would likely be on the hook for an incident since this is no longer natural accumulation. Or if people or animals start walking in the snow and it creates uneven patches, a landowner could be responsible because the snow and ice are no longer in their natural state. A third situation would be if a property owner shovels the snow and exposes the ice underneath. The path is no longer in its natural state and a property owner could be exposed to liability.
In terms of the #2 (general to the community), if the surrounding area has natural accumulation, generally a property owner will not be responsible. Whether a condition is “general” to the community is a fact question that a jury would decide after hearing all the facts. Based on case law, juries typically did not find there was a general condition of snow and ice when there were some parts of the city where there was no snow/ice. If it was throughout the city, juries tend to define it as general to the community.
So once the snow stops falling, it is probably a good idea to go out there and get rid of the snow and ice since it will eventually be disturbed and no longer be in its “natural” state. Moreover, it’s the neighborly thing to do. From pedestrians to dog walkers to the postal worker, clearing the sidewalk is the nice thing to do plus it makes the area safer and less of a liability.
This response is limited to a residential property owner. For commercial property owners, there are exceptions which apply. They will be handled in a separate post.