If you slip and fall on a sidewalk — or if someone sues you for slipping and falling on the sidewalk outside of your home — you may wonder who, in fact, is liable for damages. Many people assume that other than their front walks, the city is responsible for sidewalk snow and ice removal. Those people would be wrong.
Chapter 13 of the New Jersey School Zone Design Guide details to whom responsibility for snow and ice removal falls. It also explains when property owners may avoid liability.
General rule of thumb
Generally speaking, the responsibility of snow and ice removal falls to the abutting property owner. In some cases, however, local ordinances may place the responsibility on the city, especially in areas where residents have inadequate space to store snow. Moreover, the plan recommends that local governments devise emergency winter maintenance management plans that address the responsibilities for snow and ice removal, and that they routinely update them to minimize exposure to liability. Finally, while sidewalk maintenance typically falls on the abutting property owner, the plan recommends that New Jersey municipalities assume the responsibility along routes that lead to public schools.
The standards of liability depend on whether the abutting property owner is a public or private entity and for what purpose the owner uses the property. For instance, if the property is private but the owner uses it for commercial purposes, he or she has a duty to inspect the sidewalk for hazardous conditions and remove them. Residential property owners have no such duty and, in most cases, the courts will not hold them accountable for damages that result from another person’s failure to see and avoid snow or ice. However, if the actions of the residential property owner aggravate a hazardous condition, then the property owner may assume responsibility for resulting damages.