Connecticut’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that property owners can’t be sued for injuries suffered when someone slips on an icy sidewalk in front of their home or business, unless their town has a specific law making them liable.
The ruling came in the case of Patricia Robinson, a woman who slipped on a patch of ice in Enfield in 2009 and sued the property owners for negligence.
Many towns require home and business owners to clear the sidewalks abutting their property during a snowstorm or face a fine. The legislature in 1949 also gave towns the power to shift liability for falls on those sidewalks to the property owner.
But the court on Monday found that Enfield, while requiring property owners to clear sidewalks, has never explicitly made them liable for injuries suffered if they do not.
The court says the town, therefore, remains liable for any such slips.
“This rule is grounded in the public policy that, while a municipality may impose penalties on abutting landowners in order to alleviate its own labor and expenses, it still has the primary duty to maintain public sidewalks in a safe condition,” Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote for the court.
Robinson was walking in her neighborhood at around 9 a.m. on December 31, 2009 when she slipped.
Her lawyer argued that even without an ordinance specifically making the homeowners liable, there still was enough evidence to prove her neighbors were negligent for not keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
But the court disagreed, ruling that clearing the sidewalk is a duty landowners owe to the municipality, not to a pedestrian on the sidewalk.
“My clients denied that they failed to keep the sidewalk reasonably clear of snow and ice on that occasion, but the court did not have to reach that issue,” said Steve Murphy, a lawyer representing the property owners.
Phone calls seeking comment from Robinson’s attorney and the town were not immediately returned.
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