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Frost heave from winter can result in dangerous, uneven sidewalks

When it comes to sidewalk maintenance, many building owners and managers may think that as long as the sidewalk cement isn't so old it's crumbling, they've done enough. In reality, sidewalks are a major source of potential premises liability for business owners and property managers. New York law is very clear that building owners are responsible for repairing, replacing and maintaining safe sidewalks adjacent to their buildings.

Part of proper maintenance involves removing ice and snow as it accumulates to ensure pedestrians can safely walk across sidewalk on your property. However, the winter poses another threat to sidewalks that often gets overlooked until someone ends up hurt. Frost heave can leave sidewalks uneven or broken, even if they were recently repaired or installed.

What is frost heave?

As you probably already know from making ice cubes, water expands when it freezes. During the winter months in New York, freezing temperatures can result in the ground freezing below and around sidewalks. When that happens, it can cause disruption to foundations and buildings, as well as sidewalks and roads, a process known as frost heave. As water freezes and expands in the ground, it causes changes to the surface above in some cases.

One of the best ways to avoid this issue is to ensure proper drainage. If water doesn't build up in the soil under and around sidewalks, the chances of frost heave are minimal. However, in seasons with heavy precipitation levels and repeated freezing and thawing, even the best-drained areas could end up with frost heave and related damage.

The dangers of uneven or cracked sidewalks

It only takes one frost heave incident to render your sidewalks dangerous for pedestrians. In some cases, the sidewalk could crack or crumble, making it difficult for people to move over it safely. Other times, frost heave could result in one side or corner of the sidewalk section sinking or lifting, making it uneven. This can lead to pedestrians tripping, dangerous accidents for those on bikes and even bodily spills out of wheel chairs or other mobility devices.

The potential for severe injury in these scenarios is very real. A tripped pedestrian could break a bone or worse, roll into traffic. People dependent on mobility devices could end up hurt and unable to get help. Traumatic brain injuries and even spinal cord injuries could occur in those moving rapidly and tripping.

For those who own businesses and property, the only solution is to carefully inspect sidewalks after every freeze and thaw. They should also commit to quick and thorough removal of ice and snow to limit potential premises liability. Anyone who ends up injured as a result of inadequate sidewalk maintenance may be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner or manager.

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