Attorney Chris Guedri Speaks About Snow Removal Liability This Winter

Is there winter ice still lingering on your doorstep?

You may be the one responsible for picking up a shovel.

Allen & Allen attorney Christopher Guedri spoke to the Richmond Times-Dispatch this February about who is responsible for snow removal. In the article “Richmond Business Owners and Residents Responsible for Sidewalk Cleanup,” Guedri clarifies that there are different legal obligations when it comes to snow clean up if you are a business owner or just a resident of the city.

See the full article below for more details.


Saturday, February 15, 2014
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Suppose someone walking to a Richmond business slips on an icy sidewalk and breaks a hip.

Who, if anyone, could be sued?

Even though Richmond sidewalks are city property, local attorneys say business owners can be liable for slippery sidewalks near entrances. That same standard applies to privately owned sidewalks of businesses that are open to customers.

“If your business is open, then members of the public become invitees,” said attorney Geoff McDonald, the founder of Geoff McDonald & Associates. “If they’re open for business, they’ve got to get the ice and snow out, because if someone gets hurt, it is on them.”

Bobby Vincent Jr., the deputy director of Richmond’s Public Works Department, said there’s a simple answer to the question of who is responsible for maintaining Richmond sidewalks: “the adjacent property owner.”

That means the city has to maintain its share, including sidewalks in front of libraries, police precincts and schools, for example. Vincent said the city has done so throughout the snowstorm that hit the area this week. Homeowners are supposed to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes.

McDonald said that, to prevent lawsuits against his own firm, workers began clearing snow and laying sand on and near his property early Thursday, and they also erected signs cautioning patrons of potentially slippery pavement. Those are two steps that should make it very difficult for anyone to win a lawsuit against his firm, he said.

McDonald said one of his firm’s clients was awarded a large sum of money in a lawsuit last year after suffering a catastrophic injury from falling on black ice near a business.

Nonetheless, he said, winning those types of lawsuits isn’t easy for the plaintiff. That’s partly because the plaintiff has to prove that the business knew about treacherous conditions on its property and could have done something about it.

Defendants will argue, though not always successfully, that potential danger was obvious in cases in which snow or ice is clearly visible.

Chris Guedri, a senior partner with the Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen personal injury law firm, said business owners are obligated to provide “reasonable care” for customers. He said that while the companies are not required to clean up the snow as it is falling, they are obligated to make the property reasonably safe within a reasonable time after snowfall or other precipitation has stopped.

“What’s a reasonable time ultimately is for the jury to decide, and it depends on all of the circumstances,” Guedri said.

He said the obligation for businesses to maintain safe property is based on case law from decades of rulings by the Virginia Supreme Court.

As for “social guests” who fall while visiting friends at their homes, the standard is much different, McDonald and Guedri said.

“A social guest, even one who is invited over, is considered under the law to be a licensee,” Guedri explained. “In other words, they have a license, or your permission, to come over to (your) house, but you as a homeowner owe no duty to a licensee to do anything with respect to snow and ice, as long as the snow is open and obvious.”

“If you decide to go on in and, in the process, slip and fall on the steps, then the homeowner under most circumstances would owe you no liability,” he said.

As for those who are not invited, such as solicitors, the homeowner has virtually no responsibility to ensure the grounds are not slippery, Guedri said.