Remember the old childhood rhyme, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back?” Hopefully, no one will ever break anything on your sidewalk. But if you don’t maintain your sidewalk, it can become very dangerous to pedestrians — and to you.
“Anytime someone gets hurt on your property as a result of dangerous conditions present on the property, you potentially can be held negligent,” said Terry McConnell, vice president and manager of Personal Lines Underwriting at Erie Insurance.
So you need to be proactive–and vigilant. Follow these steps every season.
Once the snow and ice have finally disappeared (at last!), you might think you’re home free. But alas, the harsh winter weather can wreak havoc on concrete. In the spring, sidewalks get cracked and uneven, which can be hazardous to passersby, who could trip and fall.
It doesn’t even have to be a large change to be problematic; the Americans with Disabilities Act considers a vertical change greater than 1/4″ a trip hazard.
“If it looks dangerous, then you ought to do something about it,” said Alan Pepicelli, an attorney in Meadville, Pa.
So if you notice that your formerly flat sidewalk is starting to look a little uneven, it’s probably time to repair the damage. You may be able to just seal the sidewalk and fill in some gaps, but for larger problems, you may need to call in the professionals.
You love the shade afforded by the beautiful old trees in your front yard. Unfortunately, old trees often have big roots that threaten to uproot sections of your sidewalk.
You may be able to shave down the concrete on the areas that have been lifted if the damage isn’t too severe. “But in more serious cases, you may have to remove the sidewalk, dig up and remove the tree roots, and then lay a new sidewalk,” McConnell said.
It’s important at this time of year to use the rake or leafblower to keep sidewalks clear.
“When leaves fall and they’re wet, they are a big slip-and-fall hazard,” said Stephen Milwicz, an ERIE Agent at Milwicz Insurance Group in Baltimore.
Don’t forget to put away your rake after clearing away the leaves and other debris. That can be a tripping hazard, too.
Clearly, ice and snow are the big hazards to monitor.
How early do you have to shovel after a freak snowstorm drops 10 inches of snow on your property overnight? That depends. Some places, such as Baltimore County in Maryland, require sidewalks to be cleared within 24 hours, noted Milwicz.
Otherwise, consider what a jury would deem reasonable precautions and do your best to address the situation as soon as possible, McConnell said. See what your neighbors are doing, too. Milwicz also recommended stocking up on salt for the sidewalk before a storm hits.
When in doubt, check your city’s ordinances to find out exactly what’s required of property owners. Some ordinances just provide general guidance, but others are much more specific. Check with your homeowners’ association, too.
The bottom line: keep the sidewalks clear and in good condition. It can prevent injuries and save you money, Milwicz said. “Liability claims against a homeowner could increase premiums,” he explained.
Purchasing ERIE’s Personal Catastrophe Liability (PCL) policy, more commonly known as an umbrella or excess policy, can offer you a higher level of financial security, over and above the limit of your auto or homeowners policy, in case you are sued for an accident. You will be covered for the amount stated in your homeowners policy, but it may not be enough if the case doesn’t end in your favor.
PCL policies are important in this litigious age of multi-million dollar lawsuits. Insurance experts and financial planners say umbrella or excess policies should be standard practice. Typically ERIE’s PCL has annual premiums under $200 a year for $1 million or more in coverage.
To get a lot of peace of mind for a not-so-big price, consider purchasing a PCL policy. Contact CNR today at 410-897-9890 to learn more.