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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A recent thread on this

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,

As I noted in the previous thread on this subject, this is incorrect, per the following Chicago ordinance:

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.

How would the recitation in the Chicago municipal ordinance overcome the state’s subsequent case law on the subject?

Yes, good old Massachusetts, my adopted home now I suppose :rolleyes:. 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.

How would the recitation in the Chicago municipal ordinance overcome the state’s subsequent case law on the subject?

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.

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.:smack:

Simple solution–make sure your homeowners/renters insurance covers such lawsuits.

The Illinois cases are summarized and cited here (PDF). See page 6.

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.