Snow and Ice: What is Your Liability?

Commercial property owners need to be concerned about potential liability issues involving ice and snow. While the level of landlord and property owner responsibility varies by state, a consistent duty of responsibility exists to ensure that sidewalks, driveways and parking lots are maintained. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have increased the level of landlord responsibility for the removal of ice and snow. A Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling in 2010 applied a “reasonable care standard” that requires landlords to take reasonable steps to keep their property free from dangerous conditions such as the accumulation of ice and snow. Landlords and property owners must therefore act as a “reasonable person” to make sure snow and ice are removed to make conditions safe.

The following are a sample of management considerations for dealing with snow and ice removal from public areas such as parking lots and sidewalks:

  • Develop and implement a written plan to define issues such as frequency of removal.
  • Designate someone to monitor weather conditions, walking surfaces and effectiveness of removal practices.
  • Record removal activities in a log that includes date, time, weather condition and action.
  • Use a professional snow removal contractor. Be clear about performance standards and make sure contractor carries appropriate and sufficient insurance.
  • Be aware of melting and refreezing.

Many cities and towns have passed ordinances that specify property owner requirements for maintaining adjacent sidewalks. For example, the City of Boston requires commercial property owners to clear sidewalks within three hours of snowfall ending or three hours after sunrise if it snows overnight. Worcester has a similar requirement but dictates sidewalks must be clear within 10 hours after snow ceases to fall. Violators are susceptible to a daily fine. Check with your city or town for specific snow clearing responsibilities. Examples of ordinances for some local communities can be found below:

Boston: Snow Removal
Worcester: Snow Emergency Guidelines
Somerville: Shoveling Regulations and Information
Quincy: Be a Good Neighbor
Cambridge: The Works Property Owner Responsibility

At Cleary, we will evaluate your business exposures and work with you to develop a comprehensive plan to safeguard your business. Give us a call today at 617-723-0700.