I recently had a friend mention her disgust with the number of businesses in her town that didn’t shovel the sidewalks in front of their business. She then asked “Don’t these business owners know what kind of liability they’re setting themselves up for?”
Yes, there are some who don’t care, but I’m going to think optimistically that the majority simply don’t know the answer 😉
Quick note: I am not an attorney, but since the insurance policy is a legal contract, part of my job is to understand and interpret the policy. So that’s the angle I come to you from.
The short answer is- the sidewalk in front of your business IS your business and you’re liable if someone gets hurt on it.
At least in my town of Bellefontaine, Ohio. But I’m willing to bet it’s the same in many other places- you’re responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalk.
And if someone gets hurt on your sidewalk? If proven negligent, and the cause of the injury is covered under the businessowner’s liability insurance, then the policy will pay for the injuries.
You see- Insurance claims are paid based on the concept of negligence
If you’re proven to be negligent and the cause of the claim is covered in the policy, the policy will pay.
As a quick refresher, here’s the definition of negligence pulled from an insurance licensing textbook:
Failure to exercise the care that an ordinary prudent person would exercise: either doing that which a prudent person would not do, or failing to do that which a prudent person would do.
Ah yes, the old “prudent person” rule.
Here’s how the prudent person rule translates to your liability if you don’t shovel your sidewalk
It stands to reason that a “prudent” person would take care to make sure the walks to his business are cleared so customers can gain access to the business. It seems to me that “prudent” is another word for good old-fashioned common sense. It’s just good old common sense that you clear the way to your business so someone doesn’t have to put his or her life in jeopardy.
Besides the insurance policy language, there is often law that requires you to keep the sidewalk maintained.
I did a quick search through city ordinances and came across this little gem:
905.09 RESPONSIBILITY FOR SIDEWALKS.
(a) Every owner, occupant, lessee, person or agent having charge, control or ownership of any tenement, building, lot or land fronting on any avenue, street, alley, road or other public highway of the City is charged with the construction, maintenance and repair of the necessary sidewalks, or parts thereof located upon such lot or land, within the limits of the City, and such owner, occupant, person or agent shall be liable in money damages to any person, who, while in the lawful use of such sidewalks, sustains an injury to person or damage to property, by reason of the failure of such owner, lessee, occupant, person or agent in charge, to maintain the sidewalk in good repair and free from any defect.
At first blush, this looks like a bunch of legal-ese mandating you keep the walk free from any defects such as cracks, chunks missing, etc. However, I would place a big old bet that a strong case could be argued that the above statute also applies to general maintenance such as snow removal.