El Nino is back and the weather forecasters are predicting above average precipitation for Northern Arizona. What does that mean for us? It means the possibility of a snowy winter, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your preference. If you’re a skier or a snowboarder you can’t wait to hit the slopes. If you’re a business owner it translates to increased revenue as more Phoenicians come up for the weekend to play in the snow. Before you break out the snowboard and skis you should invest in a good snow shovel and plenty of salt.
A snowy winter means a lot of Flagstaff business owners and residents will be busy shoveling their sidewalks and parking lots. The City of Flagstaff Ordinance § 8-03-001-0004 requires the removal of snow, ice, dirt or obstructions from sidewalks bordering your building by the owner, occupant or tenant within 24 hours. Failure to clear your sidewalks could result in a criminal citation and a bill for the cost of removal from the city. The City of Flagstaff’s Ordinance makes it clear that businesses and residents have a duty to clear their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snow storm or else face a citation and fine.
A business owner could face additional liability for failing to clear their sidewalks and parking lots if one of their customers happens to slip and fall while trying to navigate a snowy sidewalk. Arizona’s premise liability law could make a business owner liable for slip and fall injuries. Arizona courts have found that a business owner “only owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to his invitees.” Walker v. Montgomery Ward, 20 Ariz. App. 255, 258 (1973). This means the premise owner has a duty to discover, correct and warn of hazards which the premise owner can reasonably foresee as endangering an invitee. See, Markowitz v. Ariz. Parks, 145 Ariz. 352 (1985). To examine the issue of whether or not the premise/business owner breached their duty of care to an invitee/customer, the court will consider:
- If the dangerous condition is the result of the defendant’s act;
- If the defendant had actual knowledge or notice of the dangerous condition;
- If the dangerous condition existed for such a length of time that in exercising ordinary care the premises owner should have known of the dangerous condition and taken action.
Walker, 20 Ariz. App. At 258. Basically, you have a duty to warn, correct and discover a dangerous condition if you caused it, had actual knowledge of it or you should have known about the dangerous condition. In most circumstances, a business owner who knowingly fails to shovel a snowy sidewalk would breach their duty of care as outlined above. Business owners need to be aware that they could be slipping down the slippery slope of a lawsuit if they fail to shovel their sidewalks this winter.
The best practice to observe when dealing with a snowy sidewalks is to be a good neighbor. Business owners and residents should shovel their sidewalks as soon as reasonably possible. If you rent a space and the owner is responsible for shoveling the snow and fails to do so, you should notify the owner but be prepared to break out the parka and the shovel. Under the city ordinance both the landlord and tenant are responsible for the sidewalk. If someone slips and falls, the injured party will most likely sue the landlord and tenant and let the attorneys figure out their liability. Finally, you should shovel your sidewalk because it just makes good business sense. In today’s economy why make it more tough to get that customer in the door because the customer is too scared to walk in your door?
Daniel Tom, Esq.
If you have questions or concerns about premises liability or you have been injured in a slip and fall accident, contact the Law Office of Gonzales and Poirier at 928-774-5400 and ask to speak with Tony or Daniel or visit our website. If you have been injured in an accident you have rights and you should contact an attorney before you speak with the insurance company. Our firm has two locations and if you have been severely injured we will visit you at your home.