Not Shoveling Your Sidewalk Could Cost You Big in Washington
I walk around 1.5 miles every day with my dog, and it is amazing how much of the sidewalks we see are not cleared of snow and ice. Is a homeowner responsible if I fall down in front of their house on ice and snow that hasn't been cleared in Washington State? You might be surprised!
Financial Problems You Could Face by Not Clearing Ice and Snow
If you do not shovel the snow from the sidewalks in front of your house, you could be at risk. Not only could you get fined by the city for not removing snow on your sidewalks but you could also be responsible if someone slips and falls. In Washington State, here are a few different things you need to think about when it comes to your liability with this subject. How bad could it be right?
What is Washington State Law for Sidewalk Snow Removal?
The law for Washington State on snow removal RCW 35.24.290 reads that a "city may impose fines, penalties, and forfeitures for violation of its ordinances; while subsection (18) further provides that the city has the power to make all such ordinances and do and perform any and all acts and things necessary to carry out the powers granted to it." That law basically gives the power to each individual city in Washington to enforce snow removal how they choose. That is why it is important to know the law in your specific city.
The Differences of Snow Removal Laws Between Cities in Washington State
There are some cities that are very strict about snow removal and others that are much more relaxed. In Yakima, a homeowner is responsible for clearing snow and ice on sidewalks in front of their home "by 9 am of the following day." On the west coast, the city of Everett has an ordinance to clear all snow and ice from sidewalks "by noon" according to Municipal Code Ch. 13.08. The Municipal Code for East Wenatchee says snow and ice need to be cleared within 24 hours from the end of the storm. Most cities have some municipal code that says the homeowner is responsible for snow removal.
Are You Responsible for Shoveling Snow in Tri-Cities Washington?
I live in Kennewick, so let us look at the local laws for Tri-Cities. Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco are different but very similar in their enforcement of snow removal. All 3 cities say that the homeowner is responsible for clearing snow and ice from the sidewalks in front of their property. The City of Kennewick website says that "Removal of snow from sidewalks along your home and business property is a responsibility of all citizens" but does not state any reference to fines.
What is the City of Richland Laws for Sidewalk Snow Removal?
The City of Richland is more specific with code 12.16.020 saying "It shall be the duty of every person or entity having charge or control of any premises located within the city to remove or cause to be removed from the public sidewalk or sidewalks along said property in the street or streets adjacent thereto all snow or ice which has been deposited or formed thereon within a reasonable time after the snow or ice have been deposited or formed." There is no definition for "reasonable time" but they did assign a fine if you're found guilty of not clearing snow.
What is the Fine in Richland Washington for not Clearing Snow?
Further down the law under 12.16.030, it states that if you are found guilty you face a "civil penalty as set forth in RMC 10.02.050." RMC 10.02.050 says that the fine starts at $50 per offense but could be as much as $500 per offense with a maximum of $5,000 total in fines that can be assessed. Remember those are just the fines you can face for not clearing the snow from the sidewalks in front of your home. You could face a much larger bill if someone slips on that ice and you are found responsible for their injuries.
These 4 Things Show a Homeowner is Liable in Washington State
There are 4 different things that you need to prove the negligence of the homeowner if you're injured on their property. First, the homeowner needs to be responsible for removing the snow on their sidewalk and you are not trespassing on their property. Second, was the homeowner warned about the problem or given time to remove the ice? Third, was the fall and injury because the ice wasn't removed? Fourth, did not clearing the ice directly cause the injury the person sustained?
Reasonable Care Makes a Big Difference in Fault
If all those questions show the homeowner is at fault, are they responsible for 100% of the damages? In Washington State, the victim must show they used reasonable care to avoid the hazard in order to claim 100% of the damages. Washington is a "comparative negligence state", meaning the homeowner can argue negligence by the victim for not taking reasonable care according to yakimaaccidentinjurylawyers.com. Even if the case doesn't go to court, they will try to argue the victim ignored warnings or was not paying attention. So how do you protect yourself if you fall on ice in front of someone's house?
What to Do if You Fall and Injure Yourself on Ice?
Right when the injury happens, you should do a couple of things to protect yourself. After you fall, take a picture of the area to show the ice has not been cleared. Make sure the photo has a time stamp to prove the time of the fall. Next, get the name and contact info of any witnesses that saw you fall down. Contact the homeowner and let them know what happened and exactly where on the property you fell. While you are talking with the homeowner, get their insurance information also. If you fall at a business instead of a personal residence, make sure you contact the manager and the landlord of the property. There is also a 3-year statute of limitations in Washington State, so the injury must have happened within the last 3 years.
What Compensation Can You Win in a Settlement?
The kind of compensation a victim receives in Washington is directly related to how the questions above are answered. If the homeowner is found liable, they can be charged for all current and future medical expenses, any cost of rehab or treatment, lost wages, as well as pain and suffering damages. They can also be responsible for any cost that is from changes to your home or people you have to hire because of the injury. If all of this sounds bad, all you have to do is clean the snow from your sidewalks and you don't have to worry about it. My dog and I thank you in advance.