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12 November 2014

Who Is Responsible For New York City’s Sidewalks?

It might not feel like it today, or next week, but winter is coming. And if you live, or work, in New York City, cold weather can mean more than holidays and good cheer.

Despite the obvious need for caution, personal injury lawsuits are filed every year for slip and falls due to ice and snow on sidewalks. Here’s how to protect yourself from slip and fall liability in NYC:

Am I Liable For Injuries That Occur Outside My House?

Section 19-152 of New York City’s “Administrative Code” makes sidewalk maintenance the explicit responsibility of property owners, both private individuals and business owners. It is not the city government’s duty to ensure that sidewalks outside your house or store are safe.

But “duties”? They’re just abstract principles until you institute some real-world mechanism for enforcement. The real question, then, is how does NYC plan to keep property owners honest? Rather than passing a criminal law, and making a dangerously snowy sidewalk into a crime, New York’s legislators passed the burden to civil law. Here’s what a subsection of that law says:

“the owner of real property abutting any sidewalk, including, but not limited to, the intersection quadrant for corner property, shall be liable for any injury to property or personal injury, including death, proximately caused by the failure of such owner to maintain such sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition.”

If someone gets hurt on your sidewalk, the NYPD won’t hunt you down. And no district attorneys will be knocking at your door. The law doesn’t criminalize a failure to shovel the walk. What it does is open you up to liability, making it legal for injured parties to pursue you in personal injury lawsuits.

In short, if your sidewalk is covered in ice and snow, grab a shovel, some ice melt, and get to work.

How Long Do I Have To Clear Away Ice & Snow?

New York City’s Administrative Code allows property owners a “reasonable time” after a storm ends to shovel their sidewalks. What’s reasonable? Section 16-123 puts it clearly: “within four hours after the snow ceases to fall.” Storm ends at 3 pm? You have until 7. But a whole swath of hours, from 9 pm to 7 am, isn’t included in this regulation. So if the storm ends overnight, you can wait until morning.

What Happens If I Don’t?

If you don’t, NYC’s Department of Transportation (DOT) can remedy the situation without your consent. Every year, the DOT receives hundreds of complaints. Pedestrians notify the agency of dangerous conditions, like snow and ice, on sidewalks from Brooklyn to the Bronx. First, they’ll notify the property owner and wait for hazards to be removed. If change is not forthcoming, the DOT can actually hire a contractor to remove the snow and bill the property owner afterwards.

As we mentioned above, this duty extends into the summer months. Property owners are tasked with making all necessary repairs to their sidewalks, whether that means fixing a broken flagstone or removing debris.

What If I Hire Someone Else To Shovel?

If you choose to hire someone, rather than shoveling yourself, make it a licensed contractor. Why? Contractors are required to carry workers compensation insurance for their employees. If an employee falls, or suffers some other injury, while working on your property, their insurance can kick in and cover any medical expenses.

Hiring a contractor may cost more than employing one of those roving bands of citizens-turned-shovelers, but only in the short term. If they get hurt, they may be coming after you with a lawsuit.