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If you can’t clear snow and ice from your property, you need to find someone who can, lawyers say

Leonard Constantine clears snow away from the front of his truck on Hamilton Avenue Extension in St. John’s Wednesday.
Leonard Constantine clears snow away from the front of his truck on Hamilton Avenue Extension in St. John’s Wednesday. - Joe Gibbons

As people from this province continue to dig out from the first major storm of the year, you’re basking on a Cuban beach, relieved you don’t have to deal with the headache of snowclearing.

But don’t be too carefree.

You could be up to your neck in more than just snow when you get back if you didn’t arrange for snow clearing at your house while you were gone.

Whether you’re away on vacation or work, you’re injured or sick, elderly and physically limited or just too busy to do it, if you don’t take measures to clear your walkway and driveway, you’ll likely be on the hook legally if someone fell and hurt themselves on your property.

Ken Moyse — partner in the St. John’s law firm Rogers Rogers and Moyse, which specializes in personal injury law — said while most personal injury lawsuits involve businesses on commercial property, residential property owners sometimes get sued.

It can result in property owners having to pay out big bucks if they don’t have insurance.

“With ownership comes responsibility,” Moyse said.

He said most people who live in this province understand the climate and can expect harsh weather conditions this time of year.

However, he said, property owners still have an obligation to do what’s reasonable to clear ice and snow from their walkways and driveways.

So, exactly what is reasonable?

“There’s no expectation on any property owner, whether it’s residential or commercial owner, to have every scrap of pavement completely clear of ice and snow. That’s just not feasible,” Moyse explained.

“But if we had freezing rain two days ago and you still haven’t gone out and salted your walkway and someone comes and falls down on your property, you’re in trouble.”

Moyse pointed out that much of it depends on the circumstances, but in general, everyone is held to the same standard when it comes to the law on snowclearing on personal property.

“As a property owner, if you’ve got personal circumstances that prevent you from doing a lot of the property maintenance and care, you’ve opened yourself up to exposure by not having someone else look after it for you,” he said.

“It’s your duty, if you own property, to make sure someone is able to do what you can’t yourself. I’m sympathetic to people who may have a medical issue or other particular issue that they can’t do it themselves. That’s an unfortunate situation.

“But it’s not the fault of the person who slips and hurts themselves.”

The same duty falls on senior citizens, who own property, he said. They, too, must ensure steps and walkways are cleared.

“No one wants to see Nan or Pop being sued because they got hurt on their property, but it doesn’t change anything,” he said.

“It’s unfortunately because we know of lots of people who don’t have the resources or have somebody to come and clear their property… But they could be on the hook for injuries people (sustain) if they do fall on their property.”

St. John’s lawyer Geoff Aylward also deals with personal injury cases. He said someone’s failure to take care for property can not only result in life-changing injuries for the victims, but in terrible divisions between friends and family members if they’re the ones hurt because of it.

“It’s an awful thing. If you happen to go to a store (and get injured), it’s a commercial transaction. These events, for the most part, involve incidents between strangers,” Aylward said. “Whether you’re compensated, how much you get, doesn’t have any effect on personal relationships …

“But if there is an accident (on someone’s residential property), personal relationships can be shattered.”

Both Moyse and Aylward said it’s best to be proactive when it comes to snowclearing on your property and to do all you can to stay on top of things.

“We all know where we live,” Moyse said. “Keep an eye on the forecast and when you know things are getting nasty, a little prevention — like throwing some salt (on steps, walkways and driveways) — can go a long way…

“Common sense is a big part of it.”

Twitter: TelyRosie

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