Monday, March 05, 2007

Property Owners Can't Be Sued Over Falls On Snowy Sidewalks

Property owners who ignore Indianapolis' snow-removal ordinance can't be held liable when pedestrians slip and fall on sidewalks, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled this week. But city officials hope the threat of a fine will be reason enough for businesses and residents to clear sidewalks adjacent to their properties. "Some businesses may read the decision to say they no longer have to clear their sidewalk, but I don't believe it relieves their civic duty," said James Osborn, chief litigation counsel for the city. In Wednesday's 3-0 ruling, the appeals panel said Denison Parking can't be sued for damages by a woman who fell on an icy sidewalk in January 2001 outside its Bank One parking garage on the east side of Downtown. Barbara L. Davis suffered injuries to her hip and back; she sued Denison and the city.In October 2005, Marion Superior Court Judge John Hanley denied Denison's pretrial request for a judgment that would clear the company of liability. The company appealed. Wednesday's decision, written by Judge Paul D. Mathias, did not strike down the city's ordinance, which requires the occupant or owner of a building to shovel nearby sidewalks within 10 to 14 hours of a snowfall. But the judges relied on previous rulings that said property owners in Indiana have no duty to clear ice and snow from public sidewalks. Even if a local ordinance requires them to do so, they can't be held liable for pedestrians' injuries. Such laws are "not enacted for the protection of individuals using the streets, but rather are for the benefit of the municipality," this week's opinion said. Indianapolis has nearly 3,000 miles of sidewalks, Osborn said, and the ordinance enlists help from residents and businesses after each snowfall to clear the walkways.