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As a Homeowner, What is My Responsibility for the Sidewalk Outside My Home?

Feb 22, 2021 | Written by: Tracy B. Bussel, Esq. |

We are all beginning to feel like we are in the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray…snow, shovel, salt, repeat. This has been the common theme in central NJ for the start of 2021. As a homeowner, you may be wondering what your responsibilities are for removal of snow and ice on the sidewalk abutting your property.

I have driven in neighborhoods where I see people outside with snowblowers and shovels, clearing the snow and ice from the public sidewalks located in front of their home. And I cringe. Why, you ask? While I am delighted to see homeowners clearing the sidewalk so their neighbors can get to the bus stop or walk their dogs, I know that this neighborly act could make them the subject of a personal injury lawsuit.

The law in New Jersey concerning the liability of owners of residential property for claims of injury suffered on public sidewalks is well-settled. Generally, owners of residential property do not have a duty to maintain a sidewalk in reasonably good condition. In fact, in the event of a snow or ice storm, residential property owners are not responsible to remove any fallen snow or ice. This is distinct from that of an owner of commercial property, which I have addressed in a previous article. To the contrary, commercial property owners do have a duty to maintain the abutting sidewalks, including the removal of snow and ice. Residential property owners cannot be found liable for the failure to remove snow and ice. They are likewise not liable if they do clear the snow from a public sidewalk and it refreezes and someone becomes injured on the newly formed ice, as that is an element of danger or hazard caused by a natural force.

However, residential homeowners can be liable if they create a new hazard or if their actions in clearing the sidewalk are done negligently. For example, if a property owner shovels a snow-covered sidewalk and leaves a thin layer of ice but does not spread salt, he or she could be held responsible for a fall for increasing the element of danger that previously did not exist. Sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone.

While we are all hoping that the snowstorms are done for the season and spring decides to come early to the Northeast, if more white powder does head our way, please take into consideration the risk you face when clearing your sidewalk.

TracyBusselTracy Bussel, Esq., is a partner at Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC, and practices primarily in the areas of employment law, civil rights litigation, general liability, insurance defense, and the representation of public entities.  Contact Ms. Bussel at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.