This is the first blog on the Fratusbrady law firm website. We will blog on issues directly relating to current legal events as well as issues with a broader impact on society. It seems like an appropriate time of the year to touch on the tort liability relating to snow and snow removal. The east coast experienced another snow “storm” that caused overly protective local and governmental officials to shutdown schools and governments not to mention created that immediate need to stock up on bread, milk and toilet paper. In Maryland, like many states, municipalities, generally, owe a duty to persons lawfully using public streets and sidewalks under its control to make such public ways reasonably safe for passage, but such duty is not an absolute one making municipality insurer of safe passage. Weisner v. Mayor and Council of Rockville 245 Md. 225, 225 A.2d 648 Md. 1967. A pedestrian, who seeks to recover from municipality for injuries sustained because of dangerous condition of sidewalk, must show that condition was more perilous than general condition of sidewalks throughout municipality and that particular situation had prevailed for such period of time that municipality should have known about it and failed to take steps to remedy it. Id. In some case, the courts may imposed a more stringent duty upon the owner of a commercial property to keep its property cleared of ice and snow than that imposed on a municipality.
It is easy to understand why governments and schools need to be cautious before, during and after snow storms but recently the threat of lawsuits have taken this to the extreme. Why is it that as soon as there is a threat of snow the schools and governments close the workers and students immediately drive to the local mall to shop or out to a restaurant to enjoy their snow/vacation day. What type of message is this sending to the students when a dusting of snow means they can’t attend school yet there is not enough snow to sled. Everyone has heard the stories from their parents and grandparents about walking to school in five feet of snow and uphill both ways. You may hear how they attended or watched the 1967 NFL championship game played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with the official game-time temperature of -15°F / -25°C, with a wind chill around -48°F / -44°C . Typically the tales are dismissed as being over exaggerated tales of hardship but the truth is that out parents and grandparents were not coddled in the manner we are in this day and age. Is it the “wussification” of America or the result of an overly litigious society? Either way, I can’t wait to hear the tales of the current generation when they tell their grandchildren about being forced to walk to school in nearly an inch of snow or how the NFL game between the Viking and Eagles in Philadelphia, PA was postponed by snow.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said it best when asked about the game postponement, “I’ll give you an idea of the wussification of America…have you ever watched those commercials for the most ordinary product, and after you’re through hearing the disclaimers, thought: ‘Who in the world would take that product?’ … We’re so worried about liability.” National Journal by Jim Sullivan, Dec. 29, 2010 the governor added. “Forget this football game; how many times have you seen schools close? Washington, D.C., closes with two inches of snow… We’ve lost our boldness, we’ve lost our courage, we’ve lost our pioneer spirit, we’ve lost our sense of adventure,” Rendell continued. “I don’t think Americans are willing to take prudent risks anymore.” Id. It does make you wonder about the decisions our future leaders concerning the economy, laws or foreign relations. To think that it all stems from not walking to school in the snow.