Negligence Liability For Failing To Remove Accumulated Snow

Not surprisingly, failure to clear your sidewalks of snow can get you sued if someone falls on the snow and gets hurt.  Even though property owners aren’t responsible for the fact that it snowed or how much or how long it snowed, they still have to remove it in a reasonable and timely manner.  The Iowa Supreme Court has issued decisions in the past that concerned liability for negligent snow removal.

The duty to remove natural accumulations of snow is based on actual or constructive notice of the snow accumulation and a reasonable period of time within which to remove it.  In other words, the property owner has to know that snow has accumulated and have time to remove the snow before there can be liability for negligence.  Regarding the timeliness of snow removal, the Iowa Supreme Court does not require property owners to remove a snow accumulation before a snowfall has ended.

The requirements of notice and an opportunity to remove the snow only apply to situations involving natural accumulations of snow.  They do not extend to situations in which the property owner has control over the condition that caused the snow to accumulate.  Examples of such an artificial condition include landscaping and architectural design.  A property owner is presumed to know about an artificial snow accumulation.

Liability can also arise by doing a shoddy job of snow removal.  Poor snow removal alters the natural snow accumulation and turns it into an unnatural accumulation.  So does removing the snow and depositing it elsewhere; if someone falls in the area where the snow was deposited after removal, that’s considered an injury caused by an unnatural accumulation of snow.  Another possibility is removing snow and depositing it in the street or creating a large snowbank that restricts visibility, either of which can cause a car accident.  Under any of those scenarios, the stricter liability rules for removal of unnatural snow accumulation apply rather than the more lenient standards for removal of natural snow accumulations.


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