Winter Weather and Common Questions

Automobile Accidents | safety | vehicle safety | winter driving

January 20, 2012

Now that wintery, snowy weather is clearly upon us, this blog will address some of the common questions that may arise due to the weather.

My neighbor’s tree fell on my house – who is responsible for the damage?

This seems to be an all too common problem recently.  If your neighbor has a large tree (or any size tree) that falls on your property, your insurance policy will cover the damage.  Your homeowner’s policy will cover damage to your property, regardless if it was caused by your neighbor’s tree.  The exception is damage caused by melting snow.  Typically, your homeowner’s policy will only cover damage caused by melting snow if you have flood insurance.  It is important to check your policy and update it as necessary.

I have a sidewalk on my property: do I have to clear it?

Well, the answer is “it depends.”  If you are a business owner then yes, you do.  Washington state does not follow the “natural accumulation rule,” so if your property has a  parking lot or sidewalk on it, it is your responsibility to clear it.  The law does not distinguish between natural and artificial conditions, so if you have snow, remove it. The duty to protect people from harm is the same in both situations.  If you are a private homeowner, then the answer, surprisingly, is no.  Absent any local ordinance, there is no duty to clear the sidewalk in front of your house.  However, just about every city, town and county in Washington has an ordinance requiring homeowners to clear their sidewalks in snowy weather.  In addition, you can be fined if you fail to keep your sidewalk cleared as a homeowner. So, be safe and keep that sidewalk clear.

Car accidents:  is it my fault if I skidded on snow or ice?

If you are involved in a collision in snowy or icy conditions, first call 911.  If you are the unfortunate participant in a collision involving snow or ice, there is no “free pass” for snow and ice conditions.  If you crash into someone because of the weather, you are still liable.  In fact, the law imposes a heightened duty, not a lessened duty of ordinary care  in adverse weather.  So, if you know there are snow and ice conditions, slow down, increase your following distance and drive with your lights on.

If you have any questions concerning adverse weather conditions and potential liability arising from those conditions, the attorneys at Adler Giersch, PS are ready and willing to assist.  So, stay warm, keep dry and be safe out there.