Safe Journey: Who clears the snow from the streets and how?

Winter is not over yet and drivers and pedestrians may still be plagued by snowy pavements and roads. But who can you turn to if the roads are impassable and you are in danger of breaking your leg on the pavement? Who is responsible for the situation and who will compensate you for any damages? Many people ask themselves these questions every winter. So let’s take a look at what the law has to say.

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Road maintenance and paragraphs

Road maintenance obligations are set out in several pieces of legislation. The main one is the Road Act, which states that the owner of a motorway, road or local road is obliged to carry out its management (including, but not limited to, maintenance). This is often done to mitigate the effects of adverse weather events. The owner of local roads is usually the municipality in whose territory they are located, while the owner of purpose-built roads is often a legal or natural person.

Categories of roads and roads

For the purposes of the winter maintenance plan, roads are divided into four categories in order of importance. These are:

  • classI roads and Class II roads of traffic importance. For these, chemical de-icing and roughening materials may be used. Their passability should be guaranteed within 4 hours.
  • remaining sections of Class II roads not classified as Class I and Class III roads of traffic importance. As a rule, the same procedures are used as for the roads classified as I. Their passability should be guaranteed within 12 hours.
  • other non-TierIII roads not classified as Tier II. These tend to be maintained only after the treatment of Rank I and II roads, usually by ploughing or roughening materials only. Passability should be guaranteed here within 48 hours at the latest.
  • local roads of Class IV – here the municipalities are responsible for ensuring their passability, usually by sweeping or ploughing snow, scraping off frost and spreading roughening materials. Only those pavements and paths that do not contain utilities and are separated from green areas and tree belts in such a way that saline solution cannot run onto them may be spread with chemical de-icing material.

In addition to the above categories, ‘minor local roads‘ – i.e. roads on which there is no passenger traffic and which have only minor traffic significance – can be found in municipalities. These do not need to be maintained in winter (subject to the conditions set out below).

Are you looking for an answer to a specific legal question related to snow clearance obligations?

Or, conversely, with compensation for damages in the event of a breach of these obligations? Email us and you will have a response from one of our attorneys within 48 hours.

What are the municipality’s obligations regarding road conditions?

While the owner of higher category roads is usually the state or the region, municipalities are responsible for the condition of roads in their territory.

Their responsibilities in this area can be divided into several levels:

  • Removing snow, frost or other obstacles – this applies not only to paved roads, but also to pavements and pedestrian zones.
  • Road gritting – the specific treatment of roads is usually regulated in more detail, inter alia, with regard to the environment.
  • Information on the condition of roads and pavements – information that a particular section is not maintained in winter is particularly important in this context.

Each municipality should draw up a winter maintenance plan, taking into account the size of the municipality and the traffic significance of each local road. These can then be scaled up according to their purpose and importance and given a different type of care. Expressways and roads serving public transport, as well as important local roads and access roads to health facilities, deserve priority care.

There may be sections in the municipality which are not of any traffic significance and where passability or navigability is not ensured. Therefore, there is no need for winter maintenance. However, they may be included in this category only after detailed consideration of their importance in the locality. Consideration should be given, inter alia, to whether the road at some point becomes a footpath at the same time, since there is no footpath along the carriageway, etc. Such a carriageway may give rise to different maintenance requirements. However, it is the municipality’s duty to draw the attention of users to this fact in a manner that is customary in the locality (typically a sign stating ‘Road not maintained in winter’).

What about compensation for damages?

Primarily, the liability for compensation is again directed to the owner of the road, local road or pavement. The latter is obliged to compensate the users of the road or pavement for damage caused by a defect in the passability or navigability of the road or pavement. However, this may be the case if it proves that it was not within its capabilities to remedy the defect or, in the case of a defect caused by weather conditions and their consequences, to mitigate such defect or to draw attention to it in the prescribed manner.

Tip: Have you been harmed and the pest doesn’t want to pay? What are the principles of compensation and what are you specifically entitled to? We have addressed this in our separate article.

Sidewalk accessibility and SVJ obligations

In addition to the passability of roads, the Road Act also deals with the passability of pavements. It deals here with the predictability of changes in accessibility, i.e. situations in which a pedestrian cannot foresee a change in accessibility even if he or she moves in a way that is adapted to weather situations and their consequences.

A similar obligation is imposed on the owners of pavements to remedy a defect in accessibility, unless it is not within their means to remedy such a defect. For municipally owned sidewalks , some little used and insignificant sections may be identified where maintenance is not performed in winter. However, it is the responsibility of the municipality to provide them with this information.

Homeowners or HOA’s should become interested in the condition of the pavement especially when they are also the owners of the pavement. The law stipulates that the sidewalk belongs to the adjacent road or is a separate building that is part of the land on which the sidewalk is located. If it is part of the adjacent road, thenit will be owned by the municipality, which is the most common situation. However, it could also be an access walkway to a residential building that is on land owned by the homeowners. This would then change the situation. You can find out exactly who the owner is from the Land Registry.

At the same time, however, house owners can be advised to provide a basic passageway even in front of the house on a pavement that is not owned by them. This is usually a quicker solution than waiting for the municipality to intervene. In addition, the municipality is certainly not obliged to take care of your steps or the area at the main entrance to the house, which must also remain safe.

Although snow on the sidewalk is not the primary responsibility of HOAs and homeowners, snow and ice can still plague them. They are responsible for the snow and icicles on the house and roof, and therefore for any damage that falling ice or snow may cause to a passing pedestrian or parked car.

Tip: The case of a complainant who slipped on ice and broke his ankle in 2017 has reached the Constitutional Court. In its ruling, the Constitutional Court stated that if a pedestrian suffered personal injury as a result of an uncleared icy pavement, the liability of the road owner cannot be excluded with regard to the foreseeability of the situation. We have discussed this case in more detail in our article.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

Education
  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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