Your sidewalk and your insurance
By Steve Graham, Networx
Repairing sidewalk cracks and clearing snow and ice from your sidewalk isn't just neighborly. It may be a legal requirement, along with insurance coverage for sidewalk accidents.
There are several ways sidewalk damage or ice could affect homeowners insurance policies. First, it may be advisable to boost liability coverage to cover potential accidents on the sidewalk. Moreover, failure to make such repairs could lead insurance companies to threaten cancellation of your policy.
Many homeowners assume their sidewalks are public property, thus a public responsibility. However, government agencies are consistently moving to shift the burden of sidewalk liability to homeowners. Last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that property owners are legally responsible for ice and snow removal from sidewalks, meaning homeowners are responsible for injuries on that ice and snow.
On the other end of the country, the Los Angeles city council is likely to change city law to make property owners liable for accidents on sidewalks adjacent to their properties, and make homeowners pay for repairs related to root damage from city-planted trees. This follows a similar move in nearby San Jose and in other communities around the country.
Insurance experts in Massachusetts recommended boosting liability coverage in the wake of the supreme court decision, and property owners in any community should consider increasing such insurance coverage. Talk to your local insurance agent or a local attorney.
In most areas, residents are required to shovel sidewalks within 24 hours of storms, and may be fined for a failure to do so. However, such fines are typically rare. The greater concern is slip-and-fall injury lawsuits.
Reduce your exposure to sidewalk injury lawsuits by repairing the following:
- Any vertical gap of more than 3/4-inch, which could cause a trip hazard or block a wheelchair or stroller.
- Large holes, gaps and cracks in concrete could also pose a hazard.
- If the sidewalk is lower than the curb, water could pool and pose a slip hazard.
- Plants and weeds growing in or over the sidewalk, and toys, hoses or other objects could all be obstacles and trip hazards.
Talk to city officials about who should pay for such repairs, and to get a work permit if you are required to perform repairs.
Keep in mind that even if your homeowners insurance covers sidewalk injuries, your insurance company may not accept a claim if they determine that you knew your sidewalk posed a hazard and you ignored the risk. On the other hand, homeowners have successfully argued in court that they were not liable for injuries because they followed the legal requirements and shoveled within 24 hours of the storm.
Please bear in mind that this article is not a substitute for legal advice. Consult with a competent local lawyer to learn more about your liabilities.