While winter brings fun in the snow and some scenic beauty to the Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia areas, winter weather also brings ice and snow on sidewalks, leading to potential slip-and-fall accidents, with more occurring in winter than any other time of the year. Many people are unaware that homeowners and businesses are generally responsible for taking care of sidewalks outside of their properties – this is not only a courtesy to those using sidewalks but also a public safety issue. This responsibility brings with it not just the need to tend to these sidewalks but also a degree of legal liability if they are not properly cleared of ice and snow.
The legal liability for ice and snow on sidewalks in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia varies, but a common thread in all three jurisdictions is the emphasis on the property owner’s duty to ensure safety. In DC and parts of Maryland, specific regulations mandate the timely removal of snow and ice. In Virginia, while there is no statutory requirement, common law principles of negligence apply. If you are injured while walking on an icy or snowy sidewalk, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries.
Legal Liability in Maryland
Maryland’s approach to sidewalk snow and ice removal varies by county and city. Generally, property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice from adjacent sidewalks. For example, in Montgomery County, the law requires property owners to clear the walkways between 24 and 72 hours after the snow has stopped falling (depending on the amount of snow). This rule aims to reduce the risk of slip-and-fall accidents on snowy or icy sidewalks. In personal injury cases, the burden of proof in slip and fall cases in Maryland is high, and the injured party must clearly demonstrate that the property owner’s negligence was the sole cause of their accident. For property owners, including businesses and homeowners, failing to shovel or treat sidewalks can be construed as negligence.
Legal Liability in the District of Columbia
In the District of Columbia, property owners, both residential and commercial, have a legal duty to ensure that sidewalks adjacent to their properties are safe for public use. This responsibility includes the removal of snow and ice within a reasonable timeframe after a snowfall. The District’s Municipal Regulations specify that property owners must clear snow and ice from their sidewalks within eight daylight hours after the snow stops falling. Failure to do so can result in fines, but more importantly, it opens the door to liability in personal injury claims. If an individual slips and falls on an uncleared sidewalk, the property owner can be held liable for any injuries sustained, provided it can be proven that their negligence in snow and ice removal contributed to the accident.
Legal Liability in Virginia
In Virginia, the situation is somewhat different. The state does not impose a statutory obligation on property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. Instead, liability is often determined by common law principles. Under these principles, property owners may be held liable if it can be shown that they acted negligently in maintaining their property, which includes the proper management of snow and ice accumulation. However, Virginia also follows the contributory negligence rule, similar to Maryland, making it challenging for plaintiffs to win slip and fall cases if they bear any responsibility for their accident. In Virginia, property owners, especially those with properties open to the public, are legally obligated to maintain their premises in a safe condition, promptly address dangerous situations, and alert others to hazardous conditions, including snow and ice. Specifically, they must clear “natural accumulations” of snow or ice within a reasonable timeframe after a storm. Failing to meet these responsibilities can lead to liability in the event of an accident. However, private property owners, like homeowners, have a lesser duty and are not required to warn about obvious conditions such as snow and ice. Additionally, individuals are expected to exercise reasonable caution in areas with snow or ice, and under Virginia’s pure contributory negligence law, if someone is injured due to their own negligence in such conditions, it may be more difficult to recover from a property owner during such an accident.
Contact the Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys at Dross Berman
For individuals who have suffered a slip and fall injury due to icy or snowy sidewalks, it is essential to understand the legal framework surrounding their injuries. The knowledgeable personal injury attorneys at Dross Berman are well-versed in the specific laws in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia and can help you navigate your claim. Contact us today for a free consultation.