We recently had a caller from Fall River ask about his liability in the event that someone fell on the sidewalk directly in front of his house.

The caller’s concern stemmed from an issue with his neighbor’s growing mound of snow. Snowmelt from this mound trickled down the sidewalk, and pooled in front of the caller’s home. With temperatures dipping well below zero throughout the winter here in Southern New England, that pool of water can easily freeze, causing a public safety concern.

So, if someone slipped on that patch of ice, would the caller be held responsible?

More times than not, the answer is no. Here’s why:

Do you own the sidewalk in front of your house?

Simply put, you do not. The city (be it Fall River, Dartmouth, Seekonk, Swansea, New Bedford, etc.) owns the sidewalk. Because a public sidewalk isn’t your property, the liability associated with a slip-and-fall accident can’t be attached to you.

There are, of course, complications with this, however. Namely, some cities and towns (and make no mistake, Fall River is one of them) have a city ordinance that requires homeowners to shovel the sidewalk directly in front of their homes. If homeowners fail to do so, they could be fined. However, that’s an entirely different concern from the slip-and-fall issue.

When might I be responsible for a slip-and-fall accident on my sidewalk?

There are times when you may be held liable for a slip-and-fall accident that takes place on the sidewalk in front of your home. The crux of this scenario is whether you created the condition on your sidewalk.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you have a gutter and drainpipe, and the drainpipe directs water directly onto the sidewalk. Now let’s say the water freezes; someone slips and breaks their leg. That’s going to create a liability on the homeowner because they allowed water to be directed onto the sidewalk. In other words, they caused the condition.

In the scenario introduced by our caller, he did not cause the water pooling on his portion of the sidewalk. In fact, technically speaking neither did his neighbor. The water is caused by snowmelt from a mound of snow. Any attorney who filed a lawsuit based on these facts would likely lose, because there is no evidence that the caller directly caused the water buildup.

Looking for legal representation in Fall River, MA?

Understanding the complexities of the law can be overwhelming. If you’ve been injured due to a slip-and-fall, and aren’t sure who should be held responsible, contact Steven Sabra, a Fall River Personal Injury Attorney with more than 30 years experience representing people throughout the Fall River region. We work vigorously to achieve the maximum recovery for our clients.