Tuesday evening during the Public Works Committee meeting we discussed the ordinance that currently requires residents to shovel their sidewalks.
The current ordinance reads:
521.06 DUTY TO KEEP SIDEWALKS IN REPAIR AND CLEAN.
(a) No owner or occupant of abutting lands shall fail to keep the sidewalks, curbs or gutters in repair and free from snow, ice or any nuisance.
(b) Whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor.
If you are one of those people that think that shoveling snow can make it so you are liable if you try and someone slips and falls, you should read the Ohio Supreme Court Case on just that subject: LOPATKOVICH, APPELLANT, v. CITY OF TIFFIN ET AL., APPELLEES. You will see that the property owner is not liable for someones injuries whether they shovel or don't shovel. This case tells us there is a possibility the property owner could be liable if they do something like funnel the melting snow from a canopy or gutter so that it flows across the sidewalk and then it freezes. But a property owner is not liable for injuries if they try to shovel and are only able to get half the snow removed.
Back to the Public Works Committee discussion. One of the things our lawyer tells us is that we can't have an ordinance and then publicly say we don't enforce the ordinance. Well actually he said that we can't have an ordinance and then have no enforcement mechanism. Since not shoveling snow is currently a misdemeanor, it seems to me that if a person were to call the police on a neighbor the police would be required to come out and assess the situation. I'm not sure under what circumstances they would be required to issue a citation? Currently, I don't believe we give them any guidance; 1 flake, 20 flakes, 1 inch, or 1 foot? How long do we give the property owner to get it into compliance? If the City were to begin to actively enforce the ordinance then we will have to decide the rules for issuing citations.
Also, in the discussion one of the Council Members talked about the sidewalk in front of her house and how it was expensive to hire someone to keep it clear. This caused her to be inclined to get rid of the requirement for citizens to shovel their sidewalks.
At the end of the discussion all the committee members except me were in favor of removing the ordinance to remove snow.
Going back to what the Supreme Court said in LOPATKOVICH, APPELLANT, v. CITY OF TIFFIN ET AL., APPELLEES. we read that the City has a duty to remove snow from the sidewalks. They also say that if the City doesn't do it and someone gets hurt the City isn't liable for injuries. The City just didn't do what the City was suppose to do - tough luck for the injured. The Supreme Court said that a law telling residents they have to shovel their sidewalks is there only to help the City fulfill the City's duty to shovel sidewalks. Summarizing we see that if the City decides to fulfill its responsibility it basically has two options 1. have the individual property owners do it or 2. hire someone at city expense to do it.
In the Committee Meeting Council members decided that they no longer wanted to require individual property owners to help the City keep the sidewalks free of snow. Then they were aghast that I asked City staff to figure out how much it would cost us to clear the sidewalks in the high traffic areas around the schools.
I personally agree with the Supreme Court that it is the City's responsibility to keep the sidewalks clear. I especially think this is true in and around the schools and in and around our businesses. I can see that it can be a burden on residents and business that have sidewalks compared to those that do not. What do you think?
Right now if someone got hurt because they fell on your sidewalk your liability isn't determined because you shoveled or didn't shovel (anybody could try to sue either way - they judges just won't care about if it was shoveled or not). On the other hand if you didn't shovel, because of the way the law is written today, you could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Please use the comment section for further discussion.