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I am a homeowner and water tends to pool on my sidewalk. In the winter months, I do the best I can to remove the ice, but there's so much of it that it's difficult to control.

Am I liable if someone slips and hurts themselves on ice on my property? If so, how can I protect myself in advance?

I live in Michigan, USA

  • Was the sidewalk built by the government, or by you (or what amounts to the same thing, a previous owner)? – Gerard Ashton Nov 12 at 21:26
  • I did not build the sidewalk, I assume it was built by the city. – Jordan Nov 12 at 21:29
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  • @isakob Thank you for the link, feel free to close this question as not valid under the intent of Law.SE – Jordan Nov 12 at 21:37
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It depends on the law in your town. The municipality would be responsible for maintaining sidewalks, unless pursuant to that law, the "require the owners and occupants of a lot or premises to remove all snow and ice from the sidewalks in front...", which puts the burden on you. A person is generally required to exercise reasonable care when walking in winter in Michigan. There is an additional duty, that a business has a duty to exercise reasonable care in protect customers from caused by dangerous conditions of the land: but the "open and obvious rule" is an exception, in case a danger is so obvious a customer should discover it, and in Michigan, wintery conditions are generally held to be open and obvious.

This duty is to care for "invitees" (customers, also guests to your house), not people walking in front of your house. For general sidewalk purposes, it depends on whether your town has a law requiring you to clear the ice. Also note that in trying to clear the ice, you might negligently create greater and non-obvious danger (a thin coating of smoothe ice with a dusting of snow on top), which causes a fall, and you would be liable for creating a danger.

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    You should mention that all these risks can be insured – Dale M Nov 13 at 1:52
  • @DaleM what would this kind of insurance be called? – Jordan Nov 13 at 14:41
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    I believe it would be "Personal Liability" on Homeowners insurance or "Personal Umbrella" – Jordan Nov 13 at 14:47
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This was a recent risk seminar topic, and the suggestion was to make a best effort to keep the walk clear. However the recommended approach was to advise the municipality, in writing, more than once, about the observed risk. For example, if there is a lifted slab which poses a trip hazard, or an area where sinking pavement or cracked pavement which causes a depression which fills with water, write the municipality describing the situation as accurately as possible, and asking them to repair the hazard.

Several examples were given, and it was urged to include photographs. The presenter urged providing textual descriptions, as photos do not always get included in correspondence forwarded within the municipality.

It was also emphasized to re-report the condition after a reasonable time. That could be a day or a week or longer, depending upon the relative risk.

A municipality can require a resident to clear a walkway/sidewalk, but the obligation of maintenance of the walkway itself is incumbent on the municipality, who owns/installs or dedicates the common walkway. Ponding water, forming an unusually icy area is beyond "clearing" a walkway. However, removing packed snow, or refreeze which become slippery is within the expectations of homeowners.

  • Excellent info, I will do that! Thanks so much – Jordan Nov 13 at 19:48

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