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Winter has finally hit the Portland/Vancouver area. The papers are full of multiple vehicle collisions caused by slippery road conditions. The emergency rooms are reporting an increase in fracture injuries due to pedestrians falling on snow and ice. When this type of weather hits a lawyer often gets calls from people asking questions about who is responsible for clearing the ice and snow off of adjoining sidewalks. In most areas, local law obligates the landowner to do so. So what happens if someone gets hurt? Who is responsible? First of all, the law obligates all of us to act as any reasonably careful citizen would and watch where we are going. Of course, sometimes even reasonably careful people fall on the snow and ice. So when is a landowner responsible for someone falling on their property? The answer has to do with the how the landowner is characterized. A homeowner or other private landowner is generally not responsible if someone comes onto their property and falls on ice or snow. On the other hand, a retail establishment or any business that invites people onto their property in the hopes of making a profit has a much higher responsibility. By law, they are required to keep their premises reasonably safe for customers. That means inspecting the property and removing any hazard or warning customers of any dangerous condition. Snow and ice can clearly constitute a dangerous condition. The same law applies to apartment owners and landlords. Many areas of an apartment complex are referred to as “common areas”. These are areas designed to be used by multiple tenants. Stairs, walkways, parking lots all fit this description. An owner or landlord is responsible to keep these areas reasonably clear of hazards, including ice and snow. If they don’t and someone gets injured, they can become responsible for their tenant or customer’s injury.

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