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By Jerry Wolffe
February 14, 2007
This morning's snow accumulation means it's time to remind homeowners and businesses that they could face fines for violating local ordinances if they don't clear sidewalks of snow and ice.
They could face lawsuits as well, if someone is injured in a fall, said a lawyer from the offices of Samuel Bernstein of Farmington Hills.
"Shoveling is generally the responsibility of the property owner," said Mike Weisserman, an attorney at Bernstein's office who has filed thousands of slip-and-fall cases in his 23 years of practicing law.
Each city, however, has different standards. Some ordinances, for example, said snow must be cleared within 24 or 72 hours, Weisserman said.
In Pontiac, according to Section 102-222 of the Municipal Code, "every owner and every person in charge or control of every building, lot or piece of land fronting on a paved sidewalk is required to remove and clear away snow and ice from such property within 24 hours of cessation of the snow, sleet or freezing rain."
Violation calls for a fine of "not less than $100 or more than $500," Weisserman said.
There are exceptions.
Condominium associations and apartment and townhouse owners - and not the residents - are responsible for snow removal, attorney David Cohen said.
If the snow or ice is impossible to remove without damaging the concrete, the owner is not liable, Weisserman said.
Courts also make a distinction between a defect and a maintenance condition, he said. Maintenance would be the removal of ice while a defect would be a cracked sidewalk.
"You can't sue a city under maintenance but can sue if a defect exists," Weisserman said.
If there's a hole in the sidewalk and water fills the hole and it turns to ice and a person slips and falls, that person can file suit seeking damages, he said.
If a pedestrian falls in the middle of a street, the pedestrian cannot sue for damages, Weisserman said.
In Michigan a plaintiff can be held partially responsible for an accident and receive a pro-rated share of any damages recovered, he said. For example, a $500,000 award can be reduced to $250,000 if the court finds the plaintiff 50 percent responsible for the fall.
"The purpose of having lawsuits is to encourage people to fix their property so accidents don't happen," Weisserman said.
There also is the defense of "open and obvious," he said.
"If an owner took a hammer and put a lot of holes in his or her sidewalk, (the idea is) a pedestrian should have seen the holes and avoided them, leaving the property owner not liable," he said.
While shoveling and removing snow can be a burden, Oakland County residents can be glad this isn't Oswego County, N.Y.
More than 11 feet of lake effect snow has fallen in some parts of upstate New York during the past 10 days.
There's no law against that.
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