As I sit here today, at the beginning of April, snow flurries move past my window. It doesn’t look like anything’s sticking, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Snow can accumulate just about any time of the year in these parts.
The weather reminds me of a conversation I had not too long ago with an insurance adjuster, about whether a landowner was responsible for my client’s slip and fall injuries. My client slipped and fell on a sidewalk in Missoula in January. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say that, as a Montanan, I think the landowner should have done something about this sidewalk.
The adjuster is from California, and I got the impression she has never lived anywhere it snows. “Your client has lived in Montana all her life,” the adjuster told me, “she should have known it was slippery. I am thinking I am going to deny liability.” When I told her that most cities in Montana have ordinances that require landowners and tenants to clear snow and ice from their sidewalks, and that Montana law is well-established that landowners have a duty to keep their property reasonably safe whatever the weather, she was a little surprised. I’m not sure what this adjuster thinks we do in Montana all winter … stay inside until May or June?
Whatever a Californian might think, our city councils do not expect us to sit inside and wait for the weather to turn nice to venture outside. In fact, they anticipate people are going to continue to send their children to school, walk their dogs, and run errands on snowy days. They require landowners and tenants to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice: Kalispell code, Columbia Falls code, Bigfork code (look at 92.18), and Whitefish code, (look at 72.2.B.2).
People really should clear their sidewalks and put some sort of de-icing agent on their sidewalks during the winter, regardless of city mandate to do so – it’s the neighborly, responsible thing to do! – but I’m glad that our city councils are writing these “shoulds” down, if nothing else, so we can point those who have never lived in snowy climates to these laws!