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What happens if the mailman slips on snow and ice on your property?

January 28th, 2011

In New York, property owners owe a duty of care to remove dangerous snow and ice conditions on their property.   If snow or ice exists on a person’s property, they could be liable for a slip and fall if they were negligent in failing to remove the snow or ice.  Negligence can be defined as: acting, or failing to act, in a reasonable manner to prevent foreseeable risks of harm to persons. 

So what constitutes acting in a “reasonable manner” when it comes to the removal of snow and ice?  Firstly, it depends on how long the snow and ice condition existed.  Under the “storm in progress” doctrine, a property owner is not required to clear snow and ice until a reasonable time after the storm ceases.   Further, as with any dangerous condition on property, a landowner is only liable if they were on notice of the condition- either actual or constructive notice.  Constructive notice will be found where a condition had existed for such a long period of time that the property owner, in the exercise of due care, should have recognized it and remedied the condition.   In New York, there is no bright-line rule for how long an icy condition must exist in order to constitute constructive notice.  In New York City, the Administrative Code Section 16-123 gives property owners four hours after a storm ceases within which to clear any dangerous snow or icy condition and until 11:00 a.m. where the storm occurs overnight.

Secondly, the reasonableness of a property owner’s actions or inactions will be judged by the methods employed for the removal of the snow and ice.  Juries have repeatedly weighed factors such as whether the property owner threw down salt, ice melt and/or sand and whether they used shovels, ice picks or a snow thrower in determining whether an accident was the result of a property owner’s negligence or simply an unavoidble hazard caused by  nature.

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