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The Confusing Question of Shoveling Snow in Missouri

Residents of Missouri, the Show Me State, apparently have a quizzical attitude toward shoveling snow. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, there seems to be somewhat of a debate about whether shoveling snow will actually increase your liability as a homeowner if someone slips and falls on your sidewalk.

A local law professor attributes this to an urban myth. The thinking goes, if you do not shovel your walk, it is clear to everyone what the hazard is and if they walk on it and fall, they knew what the risk was. It is not quite that clear-cut.

Although many municipalities have specific ordinances requiring property owners to shovel their walks, there is no explicit state law on the question. Like most instances where common rather than statutory law is involved, the answer is to act in reasonable manner. What is reasonable? That is up to a jury.

That is where the uncertainty comes in. Local attorneys state that Missourians are not liable for natural accumulations of snow. So if it starts snowing, do not worry. You are not required to go out and prevent all snowflakes from landing on your property. Using this reasoning, if there are 3 inches of snow on your sidewalk in pristine, untouched condition, this is a natural accumulation and there should be no liability.

The problem occurs when people start walking through it, causing it to turn into rutted, uneven patches of snow and ice. This is no longer a "natural" accumulation, so it could result in liability for the property owner. So it is a good idea to get out there to shovel once it stops snowing, right?

Well, not always. If you shovel your walk and expose a layer of ice underneath the snow and someone falls, you can still be liable. The ice is not a natural accumulation because you cleared the snow off of it.

Confused? You should be. The best bet is clear your walk after the snow stops and if it is icy, put down something like sand or salt to make it safer.  Even with that, the only way to truly know your municipality's address of this issue is to check with a local slip and fall attorney.