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Don’t Get Sued: Shovel Your Sidewalks After It Snows To Prevent Lawsuits

It’s been a relatively mild winter across the Philadelphia region this season, but this weekend’s forecast for a light snowfall is a great reminder to remain vigilant about keeping your sidewalks clear of snow and ice for pedestrians. Just a couple inches of snow was expected here, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, but a lot could still fall in the next six weeks of winter that lie ahead.

So what’s the big deal about a little snow? Actually, the legal ramifications can be quite serious if you don’t do your civic duty and shovel and clear your walks.

First, there’s the matter of fines you’ll have to pay if you are ticketed for not shoveling. In Philadelphia, fines can range from $50 for a first offense up to $300, plus penalties for late payments, according to the Philadelphia Code, Section 10-720.

Don't forget to shovel your sidewalks within 6 hours of a snowstorm. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/Pixel_Pig

Don't forget to shovel your sidewalks within 6 hours of a snowstorm. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/Pixel_Pig

But even more important and potentially damaging to your financial security is the legal liability that occurs if you don’t clear the walks on your property and someone slips and falls and is seriously injured. You certainly don’t want someone getting injured on your property because of something you failed to do.

Slip and fall injuries are common because accidents and incidents do happen when weather conditions are poor as pedestrians try to navigate slippery streets, sidewalks, building vestibules and other areas. Your best bet is to prevent such injuries at the start – and their potentially costly lawsuits – by making sure to shovel promptly after a snow storm.

This weekend’s snowy forecast is a perfect time for homeowners, renters and business owners to review their snowfall responsibilities.

The City of Philadelphia isn’t the only community that has shoveling laws. Be sure to check with your local municipality to find out about the specific rules and fines in your community. Most municipalities have laws requiring that sidewalks be cleared within six hours after a snowstorm, just like Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, the City Code requires a path to be shoveled that is at least 36 inches wide and is completely clear of snow and ice on any sidewalk. If the sidewalk between a building and the curb is less than 36 inches wide, then the safe path being created through the snow and ice should be at least 12 inches wide, according to the code. And under the law, you are responsible to do this whether you are the property owner, renter or real estate agent.

There are even rules about what to do with the snow you are shoveling. Are you thinking about shoveling the snow off the walks and back into the street? Don’t do it, the city says. That’s also against the law, and it’s dangerous for vehicles passing through on your street. Just put the snow safely onto the grass or between the curb and sidewalk to make things easier for everyone and to keep the streets clear, too.

If sidewalks aren’t being cleared in the city, you can report such violations by calling the Philadelphia Streets Department Customer Affairs department at 215-686-5560 or by contacting the city’s 3-1-1 assistance department.

And please remember, in the midst of all of these snow removal rules and regulations, don’t get mad about the existence of these laws. They’re there not to bug you but to protect us all when we are pedestrians. They’re there to make sure that we can all traverse our neighborhoods safely when inclement weather arrives with a vengeance.

You’d likely appreciate these rules if they prevent you from being injured if you slipped and fell while you are walking on someone else’s uncleared sidewalks, wouldn’t you?

As a property owner and as a pedestrian, you can appreciate such common sense and preventative actions by others in your community.

These kinds of slip and fall injuries are one of the most common types of personal injuries, leading to one of the most common types of lawsuits. For homeowners, it’s definitely something you want to avoid.

So get out there and enjoy the waning weeks of winter while keeping yourself , your family and your neighbors safer when it comes to sidewalks and snow and ice.

If you are seriously injured in a winter slip and fall accident, be sure to contact a competent, caring and professional attorney to assist you with your case as you seek treatment for your injuries and compensation for your pain and suffering.

When Winning Matters Most, call us at MyPhillyLawyer, where we are always here to help you.

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Tune in at 7 a.m. Thursday, June 30, to watch MyPhillyLawyer’s Dean Weitzman talk about swimming pool safety on WPHL-17 TV

There may be nothing more relaxing and refreshing than taking a dip in a swimming pool this summer, but pools can also be fraught with danger and liability if you are not careful.

To remind parents, homeowners and families about the importance of pool safety across the Delaware Valley, MyPhillyLawyer attorney Dean I. Weitzman will appear at 7 a.m. Thursday, June 30,  on the “Better Philly” program on WPHL-17 TV to share his legal insights and a collection of swimming pool safety tips.

Last month, MyPhillyLawyer published a blog post about pool safety which is a great guide to ensuring that your family and pool guests are safe while swimming on your property.

Children enjoy playing in a swimming pool. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/CEFutcher

Children enjoy playing in a swimming pool. Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/CEFutcher

Weitzman will remind “Better Philly” viewers of some of the main points about pool safety with five key safety tips:

*Completely Fence The Perimeter Around Your Pool – by closing off the pool to children who could wander into your yard, you can prevent accidental drownings and protect yourself from liability.

*Be Sure That All Young Children Playing Near Pools Are Wearing Life Vests – if a child should accidentally fall into a pool, they will be better protected by wearing an approved life vest.

*Never, Ever Leave Children Unsupervised Near A Pool – that means NEVER. If children are to be around or in a pool, they MUST be properly and adequately supervised by an adult who can swim and is trained in rescue techniques.

*Keep Rescue Equipment By The Pool At All Times – including a life ring and rope, a first aid kit and flotation devices.

*Parents Must Be Encouraged to Learn CPR – by knowing how to save a life in the event of an emergency, homeowners can protect their guests and themselves before rescue workers ever arrive.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drownings are the second leading cause of death among young children.

“Ten people die per day from drowning in the U.S. according to the CDC,” Weitzman said. “One  child a day in our nation dies from drowning. Another four children are injured daily in swimming pools. That’s too many.”

The rate of drownings for African-American children ages five to 14 is 3.1 times higher than for white children, according to the CDC, often because they never learned to swim. “That is an impossible statistic to accept,” Weitzman said.

Prevention and training are the keys to reducing the death rates, he said.

“Foam toys, like arm-flotation devices, are not life-saving tools,” Weitzman said. “In fact, relying on those could be causing more deaths than they save” by giving people a false sense of security.

The risk of drowning in a pool can be reduced by 83% by surrounding the pool with a four-sided fence, he said. And there’s another 88% reduction in drowning rates by teaching children how to swim before they ever set foot in a pool.

An average of 385 children under 15 years of age died annually in the U.S. due to pool or spa drownings from 2005 through 2007, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and its Pool Safely safety campaign. Of those, 78%, or 299, were under the age of five.

As a homeowner, you must be vigilant, pro-active and firm about setting safety rules and enforcing them so that guests and family members aren’t accidentally injured or worse.

In the U.S., 37 drownings and 38 near-drownings were reported this year before the Memorial Day holiday weekend and the unofficial start of summer, according to government statistics.

Meanwhile, there are other dangers in pools, including entrapments – where a person is trapped by the powerful suction of an underwater pool drain that prevents them from surfacing and getting air.

According to the CPSC, from 1999 to 2009, there were 94 reports of pool, spa or whirlpool entrapment incidents that left 12 people dead and injured another 79. About 75% of those victims were under 15 years of age and 50% of the cases involved swimming pools. The victims died or were injured due to broken or missing outlet covers on the drains, which allowed them to be held against the drain underwater due to the pressure of the draining water from which they could not escape.

Such tragedies led in 2007 to the passage of the federal Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act), named for a little girl who died in such an accident in 2002 in a hot tub. Virginia Graeme Baker was the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III. The law, which went into effect in December of 2008, mandated new requirements for pool and spa safety and led to the national promotion of pool safety efforts.

This past March, the CPSC issued a press release describing how some pool drain covers that were believed to comply with the P&SS Act might have been improperly tested, leading users of some drain covers to have covers that might not have an adequate level of protection. The investigation into the improper testing is continuing.

“We all must do everything we can to make pools safer for children who play in them,” Weitzman said. “It’s summer and time to have fun. Please join me in making your swimming pool safer for your family and guests so we can all prevent tragedies from ruining this great season.”

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