After the Storm, Who Cleans Up?

Damaged road from storm

This past week a large swath of the country felt the wrath of winter storm Jupiter. In particular, some areas of the country saw an inch or more of ice accumulation, leading to downed power lines and snapped trees and branches. Not only did this cause power outages and general discomfort for many, but the devastation and destruction caused by the ice may take weeks to clean up. Not only is the question of how long a clean-up effort will take important, but so is the question of whose responsibility it is to clean up a residential or commercial property.

The Property Owner is Generally Responsible for Debris and Damage

In many cases, a property owner has the legal obligation and affirmative duty to make reasonable inspections of his or her property and correct any hazards present thereon through reasonable corrective actions. When trees are toppled and large, heavy branches scattered everywhere (not to mention downed power lines), it can be difficult to fulfill this obligation. Failing to do anything is not the answer, however, as even though the property owner may not have caused or contributed to storm damage, he or she may still be liable for injuries that occur on his or her property.

To reduce the likelihood of this occurring, consider taking one or more of the following actions following a destructive storm:

  1. Clearly mark off the area of your property containing dangerous debris with highly-visible tape and leave this up until the damage can be cleaned. Be sure to encompass any area with a tree as branches may snap and fall even after the storm has passed.
  2. Clean up the debris yourself, or hire a licensed and insured contractor to help you clean up the debris. Make sure that your clean up includes trimming any tree branches that have snapped but have not yet fallen.
  3. Do not attempt to clean up any power lines yourself that have fallen to the ground as these lines may still be live. Instead, clearly mark off the area and take steps to alert others using signage or other means not to enter the area. Immediately contact your local utility company to advise them of the downed line so that they can safely remove it from your property.

Note that your local town or municipality may also have passed ordinances requiring you to take certain steps (such as clearing off any sidewalks in front of your property within a certain period of time).

Bulldozer cleaning up street after a stormReasonable Steps Can Save You (or Your Homeowner’s Insurance Company) Millions

Cleaning up after a destructive ice storm or other natural disaster may seem overwhelming; however, the law does not require you to go extraordinary lengths or expend large amounts of money in order to clean up. Instead, all that is required is that you take “reasonable” steps considering your situation to either clean up your property and/or alert others who might come upon your property of dangers and hazards.

If you or a loved one has been injured in California while lawfully present on another’s property (whether a residence or a commercial property), Case Barnett Law is here to help. Contact us to discuss whether the property owner took reasonable steps to clean the property and safeguard you or your loved one from harm. Call us at (949) 861-2990, or contact us online for assistance with your injury claim.

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