Clearing snow off the pavement: Can you be sued if you do it badly?
'elf and safety gone mad, innit? The weather has prompted several stories about how, if you clear snow from the pavement outside your house, you are laying yourself open to litigation.
As Jack of Kent explained over several tweets, by clearing the pavement you are assuming a duty of care - so if you do it badly, you would, theoretically, be liable if someone hurt themselves. (To be clear, he's not saying this has ever happened.)
Mark Pack asks the all important question. Has anyone ever actually sued successfully as a result of someone clearing snow on the pavement outside their house?
The media: don't clear snow!
You'd think someone would know. After all, you can read about the risk in a lot of places:
- Daily Telegraph: "if we take it on ourselves to grit pavements, or to clear them of ice by other means, we lay ourselves open to the possibility of legal action from those who slip if we do a less-than-perfect job. (Source.)
- BBC: "You are taking a theoretical legal risk if you clear the pavement in front of your home." Although they do concede that "It would be quite difficult to prove and quite difficult to proceed with a claim." (Source.)
- The Sun: "HOMEOWNERS and businesses have been warned NOT to clear snowy pavements - because they could be sued if someone slips." (Source.)
- Daily Mail: Householders and businesses have been warned not to clear snowy pavements - as they could be sued if someone slips. (Source.)
I should point out that this risk of litigation seems fair enough to me. If you do something incompetently, and someone is injured as a result, surely they should be able to sue you?
Anyway, I decided to search Google for any evidence of someone successfully suing in the UK over a badly cleared snowy pavement ...
So has it ever happened?
So I did a Google search for "sue slipped ice" to try and find out. There are lots of people asking the question. And various people are suing or have sued councils over how they gritted (or didn't) the roads.
But in the first 250 results, I couldn't find a single report of this ever having actually happening ...
So then I searched for the words "sue pavement cleared snow" and I couldn't see any sign of a law suit, successful or otherwise, in the first 100 results (although lots of people are saying not to clear the pavement, just in case).
To sum up: if you do something and put people at risk, they may sue you if they hurt themselves due to your actions. Whether they would be successful is another matter - and there don't appear to be any reported cases of anyone suing after falling over on a pavement that someone did a bad job of clearing of snow.
(And note that this isn't the position with your own driveway, where you do have a duty of care to people who might visit - so you do need to make it safe).