Brent Hinders

Hopkins & Huebner 

Des Moines Office


Ice, Ice Baby: Limiting Your Premises Liability During the Winter Months

Under Iowa law, even though sidewalks are considered public property, the abutting landowner is responsible for removing accumulations of snow and ice. This duty to remove snow and ice can be found in Iowa Code § 364.1 which states: “[t]he abutting property owner is responsible for the removal of the natural accumulations of snow and ice from the sidewalks within a reasonable amount of time and may be liable for damages caused by the failure of the abutting property owner to use reasonable care in the removal of the snow or ice.”

Failing to remove the snow and ice can result in the property owner being found liable for any and all damages. City ordinances also address the duty to remove snow and ice from sidewalks by explaining what constitutes a nuisance. The following is an example of a city ordinance regarding a nuisance:

All snow and ice not removed from public sidewalks within twenty-four (24) hours after the snow or ice has ceased being deposited thereon.

Failing to comply with a city’s ordinance can result in the city taking action against the property owner which could include the assessment of a penalty/fine.  Most city ordinances also disallow placing foreign objects into public roadways and sidewalks. Once again, failing to comply with city ordinances can result in a penalty/fine being assessed by the city.

So how do you protect yourself from a lawsuit or imposition of a penalty/fine by the city, and save yourself some money during the winter months? First, keep your driveway and sidewalks clear of debris and foreign objects. If you find debris in your yard or driveway, don’t just throw it into the road. Remove the debris and recycle it or put it in the trash. If the debris is a broken tree branch that has succumbed to the weight of snow and ice buildup, make sure to put it in the proper yard waste container. Second, once it is done snowing, shovel your driveway and sidewalks within 24 hours. It’s also a good idea to keep a stockpile of ice remover and sand to eliminate ice buildup.

If you follow these steps, you will have yourself a wonderful winter, or at least as wonderful a winter as you can have in the brutal Iowa cold.