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Who is responsible for snow removal on sidewalks?

There is a line from a popular cable television series that goes, "Winter is coming." In a similar vein, although currently spring is about to give way to summer in Chicago, residents of the city are never forgetful that eventually winter will return and with it the usual accumulations of snow. And every winter the question comes up after the first snowfall, "Who is responsible for keeping the sidewalks clear?"

The answer to that question is, "You are."

Although the city of Chicago has the responsibility for general maintenance of sidewalks, when it comes to clearing snow off of them under municipal law that duty transfers to the owner of the property where the sidewalk is located. The failure to remove accumulations of snow and ice can lead to a code violation and the possibility of a fine imposed by the city. But for property owners, those fines may be the least of their worries if someone slips and falls on the sidewalk because it was either not kept clear, or the snow and ice removal was done negligently.

Premises liability generally requires the plaintiff to establish that an unreasonably dangerous condition existed on the property when the injury happened, and this is a question for a jury to decide. But in the situation of an icy or snow-covered sidewalk, the existence of the local ordinance placing responsibility on the owner of the property to remove it may lead to a question of negligence per se, under which violation of a statute can lead to a presumption of negligence.

Slip-and-fall cases are not automatically successful, and this post is only meant to introduce the subject of sidewalk accident liability. It is not a comprehensive examination of the topic, and should not be read as containing specific legal advice. If you do own property in Chicago, you should take heed of the relevant law and do as thorough a job as you can in removing accumulated snow and ice from your sidewalk. And if you are injured in a slip-and-fall on a sidewalk on the property of another, you may want to consult with a personal injury attorney to determine whether it would be practical to seek compensation for your medical and other costs incurred in connection with that injury.

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