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Ask Chicagoist: Should I Shovel?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Feb 5, 2008 4:00PM

2008_02_askshovel.jpgGiven the plethora of ice and snow we've recently experienced, I have what I think is a timely question. I was discussing my frustration about unshoveled sidewalks with a co-worker and he told me he never shovels the walk in front of his house for fear of being sued. Apparently he's been informed that if the walk is shoveled and someone slips and falls he can be sued, but if he doesn't shovel it, he can't be. That sounds fishy to me. Isn't he making a good faith effort to keep people safe by shoveling his walk? Isn't it up to the person walking to be careful too? And really, what are the odds that someone will be hurt enough to actually sue a homeowner for a random slip and fall? Some input from a legal authority would be welcome here.

Thanks for any enlightenment you can provide.

Chicago, IL

Hello my dear Amy of Chicago,

Wow. Really? Who believes that? Your co-worker is grasping there. He must really not like shoveling. That makes absolutely ... zero sense, as far as we can tell. Granted sometimes laws and ordinances and things are fairly nonsensical, but having one that discourages people from shoveling their walks? We don't think so.

The opposite, in fact, is the truth. Chicago Municipal Code 10-8-190 explicitly says that you cannot be sued if you put forth a good faith effort to clear your walk from snow and ice. Specifically, "any person who removes snow or ice from the public sidewalk or street, shall not, as a result of his acts or omissions in such removal, be liable for civil damages." The only time that would not apply is if the person performed "acts or omissions amounting to willful or wanton misconduct in such snow or ice removal."

In other words, clear the walk the best you can, and you won't have to worry about lawsuits. Amazing what common courtesy will get you!

Besides -- it's not just a matter of lawsuits, civic duty, and being a good human being. It's actually the law. Our good friend the Chicago Municipal Code once again informs us in section 10-8-180 that "every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground in the city abutting upon any public way or public place shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of such building or lot of ground."

We take it to mean that if you're the person in charge of the grounds (be it the landlord, the owner, or the occupant), you're the one who has to clean up the snow. And you've got a deadline to get the job done by:

The snow which falls or accumulates during the day (excepting Sundays) before four p.m. shall be removed within three hours after the same has fallen or accumulated. The snow which falls or accumulates on Sunday or after four p.m. and during the night on other days shall be removed before ten a.m.

Three hours?! Good thing that ordinance isn't really ever enforced, huh?

The code gets pretty specific too. If the sidewalk is wider than five feet, you have to clear at least five feet of sidewalk. If the sidewalk's so frozen you'd damage it if you cleared it (due to your superpowers), you have to lay down "ashes, sand, sawdust, or some similar suitable material, and shall, as soon thereafter as the weather shall permit, thoroughly clean said sidewalk."

So the ordinance is in place, but any record of it actually being enforced seems to be missing. Which we think is a little unfortunate, as we slip, slide and inevitably fall on our asses while walking around wintry Chicago.

Image via mepp

Slipping on the ice? Need some advice? Email ask(at)chicagoist(dot)com.