Fort Wayne, like most cities in Indiana, wants everybody to help keep the sidewalks cleared. Muncipal code 99.047 says:
"Every owner or occupant of any house or other building, and the owner or proprietor, lessee or persons entitled to possession of any vacant lot, and every person having charge of any church, jail, public hall or other public building in the city, shall, during the winter season and during the time snow shall continue on the ground, by 9:00 a.m. every day clean the sidewalk in front of such house or building, and in front of which lot, from snow or ice, and keep it conveniently free thereof during the day. He shall also, at all times, keep such sidewalk clear from all dirt or filth, or other obstruction or encumbrance, so as to allow citizens to use the sidewalk in an easy and commodious manner."
But not so fast. The Indiana Court of Appeals, in a case (pdf file) from Indianapolis in which an injured pedestrian sued Denison Parking after slipping on a public sidewalk adjacent to a Denison Parking facility, ruled that a "municipality has a common law duty to exercise reasonable care and diligence to keep its streets and sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition for travel . . . However, there is no similar corresponding duty for owners of property abutting a public sidewalk . . .an owner or occupant is not an insurer of the safety of pedestrians using the abutting public sidewalk."
The court decision refers to "public" sidewalks but doesn't define that term. I don't know the fine points of the law well enough to say if there is a difference between the public kind and any other kind. (Any lawyer out there know?) Is there a difference between the sidewalk in front of my house and the sidewalk in front of a business or the Grand Wayne Center? Is my sidewalk more or less "public" because I had to kick in to help fix it under the Barrett law?
But it's interesting anyway. My house is private, the street is public, and the sidewalk has always been sort of a demilitarized zone. Does all this mean I DON'T have to clear my sidewalk by 9 a.m.?
(Via Indiana Law Blog)
UPDATE: I talked with City Attorney Tim Manges, and he cleared things up a bit. There is no difference between the sidewalk in front of my house or any other sidewalk -- they are all "public" sidewalks. But the court's ruling just deals with liability -- it doesn't address a city's right to require snow clearing and issue a ticket if it isn't done. So I have a civic duty to clear off the snow, which the city can make me honor, but not a legal duty in the sense that a third party can hold me liable if they fall on the snow on the sidewalk.