Waking up to a fresh snowfall might bring glee to many young faces. But for home or business owners in Philly, they know it’s not all fun and games, as fresh snow may mean strapping on some boots, grabbing up a snow shovel, and getting to work clearing walkways and sidewalks. If you are wondering just what the rules are on when and how to clear snow around your home or business, you’ve come to the right place. This article breaks down Philadelphia’s sidewalk snow clearing laws and provides some information about slip and fall cases involving ice or snow.
Snow Removal Laws
According to Philadelphia Code 10-720, "The owner, agent and tenants of any building or premises shall clear a path of not less than 36 inches in width on all sidewalks abutting the building or premises within 6 hours after the snow has ceased to fall ... Where the width of any pavement measured from the property line to the curb is less than 3 feet, the path cleared may be only 12 inches in width." Residents can also be penalized for dumping the snow from their sidewalks into the street. While not part of the sidewalk snow-removal code, the city also requests that residents help keep snow clear of storm drains and fire hydrants.
Unlike some cities, Philadelphia actually enforces its sidewalk clearing law. Recently, the standard practice has been to give residents a one-week grace period after a storm, and then ticket residents who haven’t shoveled their walks $50 per day. However, violation of this statute could result in penalties up to $300. You can report instances of snow removal violations by calling the Philadelphia Streets Department Customer Affairs at (215) 686-5560 or by contacting the city's 3-1-1 service.
Civil Liability: The Risks of Not Removing Snow
Another reason to clear your property of snow and ice is to avoid become a defendant in a "slip-and-fall" personal injury lawsuit. This lawsuit is based on a premises liability theory, where a landowner generally has the responsibility to warn guests about any unexpected defects on their property that the landowner is aware of (or businesses should've been aware of).
Pennsylvania law requires that judges apply the longstanding "hills and ridges" rule when there is a general accumulation of snow and ice. Generally, this rule provides that an owner of land is not liable for slippery conditions resulting from fallen ice and snow unless he or she permitted the ice and snow to unreasonably accumulate in a dangerous manner in uneven elevations, such as small ridges and hills of frozen snow or ice. The landowner also must be on notice about the dangerous condition in order to be held responsible.
It should be noted that an exception to the doctrine exists. A plaintiff who slips and falls in icy and snowy conditions can also recover if they prove two things:
The hills and ridges doctrine recognizes the fact that requiring a landowner's property to be ice- and snow-free would impose an impossible burden on the property holder. Unless the case falls under the exception above, the landowner generally will not be liable for failing to clear newly fallen, relatively undisturbed, smooth ice or snow, even if the plaintiff is a business visitor.
Last, but not least, slip and fall cases may seem simple and straightforward to an observer, but the law involved is more complex. You may wish to consult with a local personal injury attorney for more specific information about your situation or learn more about Philadelphia personal injury lawsuits and personal injury law generally.
Contact a qualified attorney.