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  #1  
Old 02-04-2011, 11:41 AM
CPomeroy CPomeroy is offline
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Question on Snow Shoveling Liability

Growing up in the Chicago area in the 70s, I remember being told that if, as a private homeowner, you did not shovel (or salt, ice chop, etc.) your sidewalk, you could not be sued if someone fell and injured themselves. On the other hand, if you did attempt to clear snow and/or ice, you could be liable if someone got hurt. I also remember being told that the law was changed so that a good faith effort could not result in liability.

When I moved to MN over 15 years ago, I mentioned this, and people thought it was insane and that it was never this way here.

I listen to a podcast that originates from Chicago, and I heard the host mention the other day that there still is an assumed liability if a city clears snow from the sidewalks, but not if they do not. I could see that the situation may be different for a private home owner and city or other public entity, but this got me wondering what the real story is. Especially since many cities require you to clear your sidewalk or face fines.

Does anyone have any knowledge of this area of law? I would be interested in the specific situation in IL or MN or any general information that someone may have.

Thanks.
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  #2  
Old 02-04-2011, 01:28 PM
Rusalka Rusalka is offline
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I live in Illinois and a few years ago I fell on a sidewalk in March. The house had been sold to a developer, the neighbor said, and no one had been living in it. The sidewalk was completely snowy-icy, where everyone else's had been cleared, even though it had been several weeks since a snowfall. I fell on my left arm, and my shoulder hurt thereafter for about a year. About half a year ago, I started lifting weights and my shoulder ached. I finally went to a doctor who diagnosed a slap tear in my shoulder.

I contacted a lawyer who told me that unless there was a hazard on the property causing unsafe conditions (like a downspout leaking water on the sidewalk) I didn't have a case. I didn't pursue it further with anyone else because my own research bore out his conclusion. That research also indicated that the notion that shovelling your walk makes you liable for slips and falls, is a complete myth. The only slip and fall cases that succeed are those where a property owner has caused a hazard on the property that wouldn't be there under normal circumstances.

Last edited by Rusalka; 02-04-2011 at 01:31 PM..
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Old 02-04-2011, 03:53 PM
CPomeroy CPomeroy is offline
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Thanks for the information; sorry you had to come by it in a painful fashion.

That is what I suspected; that this is one of those things that gets passed around, but is not really true.
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  #4  
Old 02-04-2011, 07:57 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Originally Posted by CPomeroy View Post
When I moved to MN over 15 years ago, I mentioned this, and people thought it was insane and that it was never this way here.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota you are required to clear the sidewalk in front of your house.

And if you don't do so, and people complain to the City, they will send out a crew of city workers to shovel off your sidewalk, and bill you for it (actually, they add it as an assessment onto your property taxes).

I don't know about liability law.
But it would seem obvious that someone making a good-faith effort to clear the sidewalk has less liability than someone who failed to do anything to meet their legal obligation to clear the sidewalk.
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Old 02-04-2011, 08:16 PM
Zago Zago is offline
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Not in IL or MN but here in MA it's the law that you have to clear your sidewalk. It's been getting a lot of media attention this year.

http://www.massrealestatelawblog.com...e-on-property/
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  #6  
Old 02-04-2011, 08:46 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Chicago has a municipal ordinance requiring property owners to remove ice and snow from sidewalks in front of their property. However, Illinois also follows the rule that there is no liability for falls caused by natural accumulations of snow or ice. So a property owner who follows the ordinance but doesn't do it well may be liable for a slip and fall. Had they left the ice and snow alone, no liability would attach.
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Old 02-04-2011, 09:26 PM
carnut carnut is offline
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My SO and I have had long talks about this as his home is England and I gut snowed into a small town there last winter. Absolutely nobody went out and shoveled. It blew me away. Two days later as the snow was beginning to melt, the same discussion was raging on the radio, blogs and newspapers.

It was pretty much the same as your experience CP. Attorneys were encouraging people not to shovel because the way the law is worded over there, you can get sued if you shoveled your walk and someone slipped on it. Here in MN and in most of Canada and Scandanavia, you can get fined for negligence if you don't clear the snow from your walkway.

My SO and I agreed that second plan makes much more sense.
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Old 02-05-2011, 03:27 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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A recent thread on this
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Old 02-05-2011, 08:24 PM
handsomeharry handsomeharry is offline
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Originally Posted by Mr Downtown View Post
Chicago has a municipal ordinance requiring property owners to remove ice and snow from sidewalks in front of their property. However, Illinois also follows the rule that there is no liability for falls caused by natural accumulations of snow or ice. So a property owner who follows the ordinance but doesn't do it well may be liable for a slip and fall. Had they left the ice and snow alone, no liability would attach.
A friend of mine who managed a chain restuarant was told by corporate not to clear ice and snow, because liability would attach if he did, and somebody fell. His take of what they said was that to clean something was to note it was a hazard, and you fiddled around and didn't do it properly, which was the greater hazard. Dunno state law, though.

Best wishes,
hh
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Old 02-05-2011, 08:41 PM
BorgHunter BorgHunter is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr Downtown View Post
So a property owner who follows the ordinance but doesn't do it well may be liable for a slip and fall.
As I noted in the previous thread on this subject, this is incorrect, per the following Chicago ordinance:
Quote:
10-8-190 Liability for civil damages.

Any person who removes snow or ice from the public sidewalk or street, shall not, as a result of his acts or omissions in such removal, be liable for civil damages. This section does not apply to acts or omissions amounting to wilful or wanton misconduct in such snow or ice removal.
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Old 02-05-2011, 08:49 PM
Spoons Spoons is offline
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...in most of Canada ... you can get fined for negligence if you don't clear the snow from your walkway.
You're not exactly correct, but you're on the right track. In Canada, most (if not all) municipalities can assess a charge for clearing your sidewalk if you don't, but it's not a fine. It's simply a charge for the city doing something that you should have done. Since the homeowner being responsible for snow clearing is part of a local law, a fine may result, but it typically doesn't; in most cases, the city does the work of clearing snow from your sidewalk and sends a bill to the homeowner. You do get plenty of notices and chances to make things right before the city steps in, however.

Note that the city is only concerned about the city-owned sidewalk in front of your house that parallels the road--it doesn't care about your driveway, or the path to your front door, etc.

As for negligence, you are again on the right track. You, as the homeowner, have a duty of care to make sure that all your sidewalks, pathways, driveways, and so on are clear, so anybody on your property is safe. If you don't take steps to clear the walks, you can be found negligent; and this is why your homeowner's insurance policy includes liability insurance. If, say, the mailman takes a tumble on your property because of your negligence in clearing ice and snow, your liability insurance covers the claim.
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Old 02-05-2011, 10:39 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Originally Posted by BorgHunter View Post
As I noted in the previous thread on this subject, this is incorrect [because of] Chicago ordinance [10-8-190]
How would the recitation in the Chicago municipal ordinance overcome the state's subsequent case law on the subject?
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Old 02-05-2011, 10:50 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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Originally Posted by Zago View Post
Not in IL or MN but here in MA it's the law that you have to clear your sidewalk. It's been getting a lot of media attention this year.

http://www.massrealestatelawblog.com...e-on-property/
Yes, good old Massachusetts, my adopted home now I suppose . I always thought the law was a stupid one because walking on snow and ice has an implied risk. However, court rulings made the law stronger just before a winter hit that makes it physically impossible for people to comply with it. It has snowed so much that you can't legally put it anywhere but it illegal for you to have on your sidewalk, a semi-public area. It is easily possible now to get sued because you are at work or asleep when it snows and someone decides to hike up to your door before you get a chance to address it even if you could.

Last edited by Shagnasty; 02-05-2011 at 10:50 PM..
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Old 02-05-2011, 10:51 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Originally Posted by BorgHunter View Post
As I noted in the previous thread on this subject, this is incorrect [because of] Chicago ordinance [10-8-190]
How would the recitation in the Chicago municipal ordinance overcome the state's subsequent case law on the subject?
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  #15  
Old 02-06-2011, 01:24 PM
carnut carnut is offline
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I should have clarified that the shoveling laws are usually set by municipalities, not the state or province.
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Old 02-06-2011, 01:33 PM
srzss05 srzss05 is offline
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Originally Posted by carnut View Post
I should have clarified that the shoveling laws are usually set by municipalities, not the state or province.
Correct. I live on the border of two municipalities, and you can tell exactly where the border is by the shoveled sidewalks. One requires it, and one doesn't.
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Old 02-10-2011, 03:46 PM
Rusalka Rusalka is offline
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Originally Posted by Mr Downtown View Post
How would the recitation in the Chicago municipal ordinance overcome the state's subsequent case law on the subject?
Mr Downtown, you have cited no case law on this topic, and I doubt you'll find a case fulfilling the conditions stated above. You have to create a hazard that isn't there naturally. Shovelling snow doesn't count, you're not placing a hazard anywhere. This is one of those myths that just doesn't die.
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Old 02-10-2011, 03:53 PM
TravisFromOR TravisFromOR is offline
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Simple solution--make sure your homeowners/renters insurance covers such lawsuits.
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:41 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Originally Posted by Rusalka View Post
Mr Downtown, you have cited no case law on this topic
The Illinois cases are summarized and cited here (PDF). See page 6.
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Old 02-10-2011, 07:46 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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In New York, you're required to make an effort to keep the sidewalks safe. You don't have to get them completely clear, but if you shovel and put ice melt on them -- even if it doesn't get down to the pavement, you won't get sued.
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  #21  
Old 02-10-2011, 10:27 PM
Rusalka Rusalka is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr Downtown View Post
The Illinois cases are summarized and cited here (PDF). See page 6.
From that self-same page:
"Residential landowners or occupants are only liable for willful and wanton
misconduct in the removal of ice or snow. The applicable statute provides:
Any owner, lessor, occupant or other person in charge of any
residential property, or any agent of or other person engaged by
any such party, who removes or attempts to remove snow or ice
from sidewalks abutting the property shall not be liable for any
personal injuries allegedly caused by the snowy or icy condition
of the sidewalk resulting in his or her acts or omissions unless
the alleged misconduct was willful or wanton."

I fail to see how this supports your point. The one case cited there, was not snow removal from a sidewalk, but the dumping of snow into a large mound next to the sidewalk by a snowplow creating an unsafe condition. I'm still waiting for a case where attempted *removal* of snow, not the *addition* of snow resulted in someone winning a lawsuit against the landowner for a slip and fall.
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Old 02-11-2011, 05:43 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Originally Posted by carnut View Post
My SO and I have had long talks about this as his home is England and I gut snowed into a small town there last winter. Absolutely nobody went out and shoveled. It blew me away. Two days later as the snow was beginning to melt, the same discussion was raging on the radio, blogs and newspapers.

It was pretty much the same as your experience CP. Attorneys were encouraging people not to shovel because the way the law is worded over there, you can get sued if you shoveled your walk and someone slipped on it. Here in MN and in most of Canada and Scandanavia, you can get fined for negligence if you don't clear the snow from your walkway.

My SO and I agreed that second plan makes much more sense.
The consensus from what I've read over here (England) is that it's one of those myths where people are frightened into believing they would be liable, and misinformed individuals, companies and even councils avoid clearing snow because of that belief, but in fact it's not true.

It's not normally an issue in the main populated parts of England, because heavy snowfall is rare, but in the past two or three winters we have had quite a bit of snow so it has become newsworthy.

I agree with you that hardly anybody shovels snow, though. I think it's just because deep snow is such a rarity that shovelling it has never been seen as something you should do.

Last winter we got about 10 inches of snow, and after 24 hours only three or four households (including mine) on my road had cleared their driveways and pavements.

Of course, the road was close to impassable as residential roads aren't ploughed, so I guess people didn't bother digging their cars out because they couldn't get anywhere!

Last edited by Colophon; 02-11-2011 at 05:43 AM..
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Old 02-11-2011, 09:03 AM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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Originally Posted by Colophon View Post
The consensus from what I've read over here (England) is that it's one of those myths where people are frightened into believing they would be liable, and misinformed individuals, companies and even councils avoid clearing snow because of that belief, but in fact it's not true.
It was true under the common law. It appears from Mr Downtown's site that Illinois has modified the c/l, so the owner is not liable unless the action was wilful and wanton (at least as to natural events). Apparently, many states, and possibly England, have similar laws. In another post, an Illinois statute was noted as imposing a duty to clear the walk, but that statute explicitly stated that the failure to do so would not make the owner liable in a civil action. (I don't know the sanctions if the owner doesn't. Possibly a fine.)
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Old 02-11-2011, 10:23 AM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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The duty to clear the walk, and the recitation that it will not cause liability, are in a municipal ordinance, not a statute.
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Old 02-11-2011, 11:50 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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(IANAL but) The legal logic is obvious - if you made an effort to remove snow, then you showed that you knew it was hazardous. Failing to remove it properly means you are negligent. The fact someone fell supposedly proves that removal was not completed properly.

Meanwhile, leaving the snow untouched means the visitor is seeing the same natural condition and hazard they find everywhere - and must take the same care they would take anywhere else or simply avoid that path.

This is the same logic that suggests that if a business makes an attempt to correct a problem, then they show they have recognized the problem and so are duty-bound to fix it properly. Or if a web site in any way censors speech (hey there, moderators!) then they are partially liable if libellous speech remains on the site too long, whereas if they make no effort to remove offensive content, then offensive content is in no way their fault.

However, as others point out... The laws are writen to modify the basic logic - many places REQUIRE snow removal from sidewalks, so failing to make a reasonable effort to clean the snow automatically confers a liablity of negligence.

Of course, as also pointed out, the "must clear" rules only apply to the city sidewalks. You are welcome to ignore your walkway and driveway. At least in Canada, I have received notes from the Post Office warning that my mail will not be delivered unless/until I clean my walk to the mailbox properly...

Any other person except the mailman - well, the next test would be why did they walk a path that was obviously dangerous, unless invited?

Last edited by md2000; 02-11-2011 at 11:52 AM..
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Old 02-11-2011, 03:08 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
(IANAL but) The legal logic is obvious - if you made an effort to remove snow, then you showed that you knew it was hazardous. Failing to remove it properly means you are negligent. The fact someone fell supposedly proves that removal was not completed properly.

Meanwhile, leaving the snow untouched means the visitor is seeing the same natural condition and hazard they find everywhere - and must take the same care they would take anywhere else or simply avoid that path.

However, as others point out... The laws are writen to modify the basic logic - many places REQUIRE snow removal from sidewalks, so failing to make a reasonable effort to clean the snow automatically confers a liablity of negligence.

Of course, as also pointed out, the "must clear" rules only apply to the city sidewalks. You are welcome to ignore your walkway and driveway. At least in Canada, I have received notes from the Post Office warning that my mail will not be delivered unless/until I clean my walk to the mailbox properly...

Any other person except the mailman - well, the next test would be why did they walk a path that was obviously dangerous, unless invited?
The city of Chicago's ordinance [thank you, Mr Downtown - I realized my error after posting, but I left for the day] requires snow removal, but explicitly states that does not impose liability. It does not automatically confer liability. It did not change the common law. The common law has been changed by statute, ordinance, or by case law in some jurisdictions.

Further, you are not welcome to ignore your walkway if the public has an easement on it and if the common law as to liability (not title) has been changed. A driveway or a walkway not used for the public, of course, need not be cleared, as anyone using that would be a trespasser. In the US (under the common law) the lot owner has fee to the sidewalk. If the common law has been changed (as it was in Illinois), then the city has the fee. If the city has the fee, I don't see how they can make you clear it.
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  #27  
Old 02-11-2011, 03:31 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
(IANAL but) The legal logic is obvious - if you made an effort to remove snow, then you showed that you knew it was hazardous. Failing to remove it properly means you are negligent. The fact someone fell supposedly proves that removal was not completed properly.

Meanwhile, leaving the snow untouched means the visitor is seeing the same natural condition and hazard they find everywhere - and must take the same care they would take anywhere else or simply avoid that path.
It may be obvious (to a lawyer), but ordinary people have more common sense! I can't imagine a jury here in Minnesota ever penalizing an owner for making an effort, even a partial one, to clear snow & ice off their sidewalk. A jury would be much tougher on an owner who did nothing to clear off their sidewalk (which is illegal here, anyway).
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Old 02-11-2011, 05:07 PM
aceplace57 aceplace57 is offline
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This thread makes me thankful my subdivision/neighborhood never put in sidewalks. It was built in the 1950's and somehow the developer got away with not putting them in. It's unusual because most neighborhoods in my city do have sidewalks.

Geez people suing because they fall on a sidewalk. It isn't worth having them then. People can walk in the street. Sue the city if they fall. Takes a big load off my mind when it snows.

Last edited by aceplace57; 02-11-2011 at 05:10 PM..
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  #29  
Old 02-11-2011, 06:22 PM
mittu mittu is offline
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Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net View Post
In Minneapolis, Minnesota you are required to clear the sidewalk in front of your house.

And if you don't do so, and people complain to the City, they will send out a crew of city workers to shovel off your sidewalk, and bill you for it (actually, they add it as an assessment onto your property taxes).

I don't know about liability law.
But it would seem obvious that someone making a good-faith effort to clear the sidewalk has less liability than someone who failed to do anything to meet their legal obligation to clear the sidewalk.
What happens if you are on holiday? Do you need to provide proof that you were away in order to get the charges waived?
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Old 02-11-2011, 06:58 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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http://www.suntimes.com/news/3762310...shoveling.html $50 fine and other legal ramifications in Chicago.
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  #31  
Old 02-11-2011, 09:16 PM
t-bonham@scc.net t-bonham@scc.net is offline
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What happens if you are on holiday? Do you need to provide proof that you were away in order to get the charges waived?
No, they are not waived at all, proof or no!

When you go away, you are expected to make arrangements to have your property taken care of by someone during your absence. That's part of being a responsible property owner. If you don't, you pay the price.

But, in reality, it won't happen that fast. If you're gone for a long weekend and don't get snow shoveled till you get back, probably nobody will report you that quickly. And the city won't send workers out that quickly. In fact, if you are friendly with your neighbors, one of them may clear your sidewalk for you while you're gone. It's only if you consistently, regularly fail to clean your sidewalk that someone will report you.
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Old 02-11-2011, 11:19 PM
carnut carnut is offline
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Originally Posted by Colophon View Post
Last winter we got about 10 inches of snow, and after 24 hours only three or four households (including mine) on my road had cleared their driveways and pavements.

Of course, the road was close to impassable as residential roads aren't ploughed, so I guess people didn't bother digging their cars out because they couldn't get anywhere!
Yeah, last winter I was hanging out in the Mendips when we got socked with 15 inches of really great snowman/snow fort/snowball fighting snow after Christmas. My S/O told me I had to quit throwing snowballs at him because it just wasn't acceptable. Yer missing out on all the fun.

I was appalled at the condition of the sidewalks when we chanced a trip into Bristol two days later. Even the steep hills were just iced over with trampled snow. I felt for the old folks trying to negotiate their way to the local greengrocer. The sidewalk issue was the talk of the Beeb and on the street as well.
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Old 02-12-2011, 11:51 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net View Post
It may be obvious (to a lawyer), but ordinary people have more common sense! I can't imagine a jury here in Minnesota ever penalizing an owner for making an effort, even a partial one, to clear snow & ice off their sidewalk. A jury would be much tougher on an owner who did nothing to clear off their sidewalk (which is illegal here, anyway).
I agree. I imagine a lot of the "I'll sue" crap is related to businesses willing to shell out and pay off lawsuits. I suspect if your sidewalk is shovelled to the same extent as the neighbours' then the lawyer will have a hard time proving negligence; and in northern climates, uncertain footing is par for the course. I too would be reluctant to give any credence to a negligence suit.

Also (IANAL) I understand some reasons why there are so few such lawsuits in Canada - with universal health care, all bills are paid anyway so there's no medical expenses to sue over. It's got to be a pretty serious accident if you miss enough work to make lost wages worth suing over; Canada tends not to tack on "pain and suffering" or punitive damages as much as in the USA; and a failed lawsuit most often will leave the loser on the hook for legal expenses - and most provincial law societies are also hostile to contingency payment arrangements, so you better really mean it when you do sue.
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  #34  
Old 02-12-2011, 02:36 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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In Illinois since the Plat Act in 1818 most streets are in the municipality (if the dedication strictly conforms to the Plat Act - which the school section in downtown Chicago doesn't and neither did the canal trustees' plat of the O.T. of Chicago, besides which the streets were dedicated before the enactment of the Plat Act). The sidewalks are included in the streets. So how can the Chicago ordinance require the owner of the adjoining lot to clear the walk? The city owns it and it is the city's responsibility. I think the ordinance is unconstitutional.
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Old 02-12-2011, 03:06 PM
Spoons Spoons is offline
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... Canada tends not to tack on "pain and suffering" or punitive damages as much as in the USA; and a failed lawsuit most often will leave the loser on the hook for legal expenses - and most provincial law societies are also hostile to contingency payment arrangements, so you better really mean it when you do sue.
In Canada, there is a certain standard to meet in order to be awarded punitive damages, and the circumstances under which they are awarded are somewhat restricted. See, for example, Whiten v. Pilot Insurance Co., 2002 SCC 18, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 595. What this all means is that punitive damages can be awarded; but litigants are advised to carefully consider whether their claim for punitive damages has any chance of succeeding within the context of the existing common law precedent. If it doesn't, they're usually advised not to bother.

Most provincial law societies (Canada's versions of state bar associations) have no problem with contingency payment agreements--indeed, a colleague of mine here in Alberta pretty much only does contingency work, and does quite well at it. But again, there are limitations--in my jurisdiction, for instance, contingency fee arrangements may not be made for matters in the areas of criminal law, divorce, or custody. Other than those areas, a contingency fee arrangement may be negotiated; although it should be added that common sense comes into play also: no lawyer will work on contingency if the amount in issue is too low to return a reasonable fee when the matter ends.
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Old 02-12-2011, 03:47 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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Originally Posted by barbitu8 View Post
How can the Chicago ordinance require the owner of the adjoining lot to clear the walk? The city owns it and it is the city's responsibility. I think the ordinance is unconstitutional.
What constitutional provision would it violate?

State legislatures have plenary police power. Surely you know that prior to World War II it was common to require a certain number of days of labor, from all able-bodied men in a particular county, for road construction and repair.
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Old 02-12-2011, 03:49 PM
TravisFromOR TravisFromOR is offline
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What constitutional provision would it violate?
The provision that says anything I don't like is unconstitutional.
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Old 02-12-2011, 04:36 PM
barbitu8 barbitu8 is offline
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What constitutional provision would it violate?

State legislatures have plenary police power. Surely you know that prior to World War II it was common to require a certain number of days of labor, from all able-bodied men in a particular county, for road construction and repair.
13th Amendment
Amendment XIII
Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

I was born in 1937 and I surely did not know that. But if true, it must have been when war was imminent and justified by the exigency of the situation.
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Old 02-12-2011, 06:14 PM
Mr Downtown Mr Downtown is offline
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The "involuntary servitude" argument against road duty was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1916. Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328 (1916).

Last edited by Mr Downtown; 02-12-2011 at 06:16 PM..
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  #40  
Old 02-12-2011, 06:34 PM
fifty-six fifty-six is offline
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Location: Alaska
Posts: 1,280
Where you put your foot is your own responsibility. This snow shoveling stuff is ridiculous.
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  #41  
Old 02-13-2011, 07:13 PM
Zjestika Zjestika is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2004
Minneapolis ordinance 445.

http://library.municode.com/index.as...Name=minnesota

The gist is, as others said, that you can be charged the cost of snow removal. It's interesting to peruse the municipal codes. I found, for example, that I can totally rat out my neighbor who annoys me by blocking the sidewalk with the 4 cars in his short driveway. Whether I want that karma or not I haven't decided.
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