With the recent winter storm in Wisconsin, many homeowners and occupants of properties have spent a great deal of time outside clearing snow and ice from their driveways and walkways. Property owners in Wisconsin have a duty to keep sidewalks in front of or alongside their property clear of snow and ice. Property owners should familiarize themselves with the ordinance that applies to snow removal in the city or municipality where the property is located. The rules do vary depending upon the municipality, but in general, property owners have a certain number of hours from when a snowfall ends to remove the snow and ice from the walkways adjacent to their property.
The ordinance governing snow removal in Milwaukee states: “Private property, residential or commercial property owners and occupants are required to clear the sidewalks abutting their property of snow or ice within 24 hours after the snow has stopped falling. This includes the corner crosswalk area for property owners with corner lots or those whose property abuts a midblock crosswalk.” When a violation is reported in Milwaukee, the property owner will be charged $50 and receive a notice to clear the walk. If the property owner does not sufficiently clear the walk before the city contractor arrives to inspect, the property owner will receive an additional $75 charge for the first violation and a $100 charge for any subsequent violations in addition to the cost of the snow and ice removal to be completed by the city.
The City of Waukesha ordinance regarding snow removal is as follows: “Within 12 hours after the snow has stopped, sidewalks should be cleared of snow or ice. After 12 hours, if the City receives a complaint of snow or ice-covered walk, the City will begin enforcement action.” Once a violation is reported, the City inspects the sidewalk. If the City determines that there is a violation of the ordinance, the representative leaves a courtesy tag at the property to notify the owner or occupant of the violation and the need for corrective action. The City then revisits the property the next business day. If the violation is still present, the City sends a contractor to remove the snow or ice and bills the property owner for the service. The City charges an additional penalty for repeat violations as well.
According to the City of Waukesha website, common problems that constitute violations of the snow removal ordinance include sidewalks that are not shoveled, ice-covered sidewalks, sidewalks not shoveled to their full width, handicap ramps not sufficiently cleared of snow and ice and snow placed in the street.
The city of Madison takes a bit of a different approach to its snow removal guidelines. The Madison guidelines state: “To make public sidewalks safe for pedestrians, the owner or occupant of the property immediately adjacent to a public sidewalk is responsible for the removal of any snow or ice that accumulates on the sidewalk. Residents are required to clear snow from their sidewalk by noon of the day after the snow stopped. And remember, snow plows might create a blockage even after your drive has been cleaned. In the event that removal of ice is impossible, the property owner or occupant is required to use sand, salt or other suitable substance to prevent the ice from being dangerous. This should be done by noon of the day after the snow/ice stopped.” Unlike in Waukesha, the City of Madison notes on its website that it will not issue a warning before citing the property owner for not properly removing snow and ice pursuant to the ordinance because it is a safety issue.
Given that the rules vary fairly substantially between municipalities, it is important for property owners to be aware of the rules for their specific region. Ordinances can generally be found on the city or municipality’s website. Property owners must be cognizant of the rules surrounding snow and ice removal to avoid monetary penalties if they are found to have violated the ordinance, or worse, if their failure to remove snow and ice results in a serious injury for someone who is injured on the sidewalk on their property. It is the responsibility of the property owner to ensure that the sidewalks on their property are maintained in a manner such that it is safe for pedestrians who use the sidewalk.
Aside from city sidewalks, homeowners are also responsible if someone, such as a guest or delivery driver, are injured on their property due to their failure to adequately remove snow and ice from their driveways and walkways leading to their home. While there is not an ordinance or statute governing snow removal on private property, a homeowner has a duty to maintain his or her property such that it is free of any unreasonable risks of harm for those who are on the property with permission. For example, if a delivery driver or mailperson are injured because the homeowner did not properly remove snow and ice from their walkways, the homeowner (usually through their homeowner’s insurance policy) can become responsible for paying for the damages sustained by the injured person, such as medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.
If you or someone you know has been injured on someone else’s property due to snow or ice that has not been properly removed, there may be grounds to make a personal injury claim against the homeowner and his or her insurance company. Time is of the essence in these types of cases as oftentimes evidence must be gathered soon after the injury or it may be forever lost. The team at Groth Law Firm has successfully handled cases against property owners who have failed to maintain their properties in a manner that is safe for guests and others that come onto the property with permission resulting in serious injuries. The attorneys at Groth Law Firm offer free consultations and would be happy to speak with you to determine if you may have a case. Call the Groth Law Firm at (414) 375-2030 today.