Under Washington, D.C. premises liability laws, property owners are required to keep public sidewalks in front of their premises free of snow and sleet by clearing sidewalks within the first eight hours of daylight after a snowfall. However, an individual cannot sue a landowner under the statute in a D.C. premises liability case for failing to keep premises free of snow and sleet. Only the D.C. government can enforce the statute against landowners by fining landowners who fail to comply. A landowner may be liable, however, if the landowner acts in a way that increases the hazard created by snow or ice and which then causes the plaintiff’s injuries.
In a recent case before one state’s supreme court, the court rejected such a case. In that case, the plaintiff was entering a restaurant, and as she approached the restaurant, she slipped and fell on ice, sustaining injuries. The portion of the sidewalk where she fell was a public sidewalk. She filed a complaint against the restaurant, alleging that the restaurant was negligent in failing to maintain the sidewalk and the restaurant’s arrival area in a safe and proper condition.
That court rejected the plaintiff’s case, holding that a city ordinance that required an owner to clear a sidewalk of snow and ice created a duty only to the municipality and not to individuals. Thus, only the municipality was able to enforce the ordinance. The court stated that a landowner whose property touches public property does not have a duty to other individuals (including customers) to repair or maintain it. In addition, there was no evidence that the restaurant’s efforts to clear the sidewalk made the sidewalk more dangerous than if they had done nothing.