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Icy sidewalks and the ongoing storm doctrine

No one has to tell Connecticut residents of the hazards that ice and snow present to roads, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots and outdoor stairs. Often they spend half of each year digging out from snow and/or ice storms and gingerly making their way down sidewalks and across streets and parking lots to get to wherever they need to go.

Homeowners and commercial and governmental property owners know that they must take reasonable care to keep their driving and walking surfaces safe for drivers and pedestrians. If someone has an auto accident or slips and falls while on their property, a lawsuit is almost sure to follow.

Ongoing storm doctrine

Property owners are not required, however, to have their property completely free and clear of all snow and ice at all times regardless of what weather conditions Mother Nature pulls out of her bag of tricks. As FindLaw explains, Connecticut's ongoing storm doctrine gives them a grace period during which to clean up their property.

Under this doctrine, a property owner has a reasonable period of time after the storm stops in which to clean up his or her property so as to make it safe for drivers and/or pedestrians. "Reasonable" is seldom, if ever, precisely defined in terms of a specific number of hours, nor is what constitutes an "ongoing" storm. For instance, if snow stops for an hour or so, but then starts up again, is the snowstorm ongoing? Did the property owner have the duty to get the "old" snow off the street or sidewalk during the time before the "new" snow started falling?

Answers to questions such as these are decided on a case-by-case basis and depend on a variety of weather conditions including the following:

  • The severity of the storm
  • How long the storm and each of its segments lasted
  • Whether and to what extent the property owner attempted to clear off the "old" snow and/or ice
  • Any other relevant factor

People considering suing a property owner for personal injuries and/or property damage caused by snowy or icy conditions would do well to remember that the ongoing storm doctrine does not apply just to blizzards. It can apply to any significant weather event.

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