By Rick Palsgrove
Until the recent warming trend, the snowfalls of this winter blanketed the ground and piled up on sidewalks, making it tough on pedestrians to move about.
Because there was so much lingering snow, which was then frozen into ice by freezing rain, and temperatures were so cold, it was difficult for people to shovel the white stuff off their sidewalks.
Walkers clambered over dirty piles of snow at intersections and tread where the snow covered sidewalks were by stepping into existing foot holes made by preceding people who blazed a snowy trail.
Some property owners were able to clear snow from stretches of sidewalks, but many other walkways remained icily covered with lumpy snow until recently when Mother Nature worked her magic to melt it.
One Groveport business owner/resident expressed dismay that she saw a large number of properties in town where the sidewalks were not cleared, or even attempted to be cleared, of snow.
“It’s important to keep the walkways cleared,” she said, adding that in some nearby towns high school athletic teams shoveled snow from sidewalks as a community service project. “What a great idea for those needing help!”
So, what are property owners legally required to do regarding removing snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes and businesses?
According to city of Groveport Law Director Kevin Shannon, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled in the 1993 of Brinkman v. Ross that property owners do not have an obligation to remove snow and/or ice from sidewalks on their property.
“The court’s rationale was that dangers from the natural accumulation of ice and snow are ordinarily so obvious and apparent that the property owner may reasonably expect that guests and/or invitees will readily discover any danger posed and take measures to protect themselves,” said Shannon.
Despite this ruling, Shannon said municipalities have enacted local laws requiring property owners to keep their sidewalks clear of ice and snow. The city of Groveport has such an ordinance, which states, “No owner or occupant of abutting lands shall fail to keep the sidewalks, curbs or gutters in repair and free from snow, ice or any nuisance.”
The penalty for the violation of this ordinance is a minor misdemeanor, which could involve the payment of a fine of up to $150 and costs.
“However, to my knowledge we have not actively enforced this ordinance and for good reason,” said Shannon. “It’s a problem to have the highest court in the state rule that there is no duty to remove snow and/or ice in examining a property owner’s civil liability, but, nevertheless, cite them criminally for violation of a local ordinance.
According to Shannon, in Gober v. Thomas & King, Inc., the Second District Court of Appeals of Ohio ruled in 1997 that property owners who remove the natural accumulation of snow ice and create an unnatural condition, such as a slicker surface, may be liable if someone slips and falls.
“As you can see, active enforcement could put property owners in a ‘no-win, situation, and the city has no desire to do that,” said Shannon.