Icy footpaths: Where do you stand if someone falls?

WHEN the snow and ice of winter falls hard upon the ground, there is one legal question more than any other which seems to occupy the minds of most people living in the villages and towns around the country. ' If someone slips on the snow or ice outside my house', they ask, ' will I be held responsible?'

Unfortunately, there is no one 'catch- all' answer to this question. Instead the answer depends on what you do about the hazard and, more importantly, what you don't do. Allow us to explain.

Imagine you are the owner/ occupier of a house with an adjoining public footpath outside your front wall. Snow has fallen overnight and the footpath outside your front wall is now a blanket of white powder. In this scenario, there is no obligation on you whatsoever to clear away this snow or ice from the footpath, and so anyone unfortunate enough to have a slip or fall on it cannot hold you responsible. In short, if you have taken no action, no one can take legal action against you.

If, on the other hand, you consider

In association with the hazard to be too much of a risk to yourself or your neighbours and you do take the step of clearing it away. There is one rule you should keep in mind - whatever you do, do it carefully! In the rush to make one's own patch of footpath safe, it can happen that more thought is given to removing the snow than where it is actually removed to. This can result in scenarios where snow that was spread evenly over the ground is now simply left heaped up in one big pile at some point along the footpath. Without you actually realising it, you have failed to take adequate care when removing the hazard and as such your actions have now created an obstacle which is a danger to the public. If someone is unfortunate enough to fall as a result of this obstacle being left on the footpath, they may well have grounds to take legal action against you.

The lesson from this is that there is a duty on those who do take action to do so responsibly and with consideration towards the safety of others. Put simply, you should not clear away a hazard only to leave a danger in its place.

Note: This column is intended for general guidance on current issues in the law. It is not a substitute for legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances and should not be relied upon as such.

Thomas Nelan B.C. L., B. B. S., is an Attorney- at- Law with Mannix & Company, Solicitors, 12 Castle ~ Street, Tralee & Church Street, Castleisland. www. mannixj. com T: 066 7 125011 E: tnelan@mannixj.com

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