Saturday, March 03, 2007

Court Rewards Bad Neighbors

Perhaps you have to live downtown like I do and spend a lot of time walking to places as opposed to getting in your car and driving somewhere to feel the same way, but an Indiana Court of Appeals decision letting abutting property owners off the hook for injuries pedestrians suffer when they slip and fall on a snow or ice-covered sidewalk really irks me. In Denison Parking and City of Indianapolis v. Davis, the Court of Appeals held that an abutting property owner or occupant has no duty to clear snow and ice from sidewalks even though a city ordinance requires the property owner to remove the snow and ice. The Court, in my opinion, wrongly concludes that ordinances such as Indianapolis' are not enacted for the protection of the public. The Court wrote:

It has long been held that ordinances such as Indianapolis Municipal Code Section 931-102, which the Davises attempt to rely on for protection here, are not enacted for the protection of individuals using the streets, but rather are for the benefit of the municipality.

Personally, I have taken a tumble about four times over the last month because certain property owners made little or no effort to remove the snow and ice from the sidewalks. I'm still feeling the pain from the last one I took this past week. My parents, who are both in their 70s, struggled to get through the snow piled on the sidewalks along Massachusetts Avenue a couple of weeks ago which you had to cross over in order to get from your parking space to the business you were patronizing. They couldn't understand why the business owners hadn't bothered to clear away the snow so long after it had fallen.

Along Michigan Avenue we have several property owners who never clean the snow or ice from their sidewalks. This forces pedestrians to walk in the heavily travelled Michigan Avenue because the sidewalks are impassable. Not only do your clothes get splashed from the passing cars, you are placed in a very dangerous situation. Last week, a passing van clipped the gym bag I had thrown over my shoulder with its side mirror as I walked to the YMCA at the Athenaeum.

The problem is compounded because the City of Indianapolis, almost without exception, refuses to enforce its own ordinance requiring property owners to keep sidewalks free of snow and ice. I know in the case of one of my neighbors, many of us have complained directly to them about the problem. They just laugh in your face when you bring it up. They don't live in the building, and they don't feel they owe any responsibility to their tenants to remove the snow and ice. Of course, this is the same property owner who deliberately leaves a beat up old pickup truck parked in front of our building for days at a time just because he knows it bothers the people living in the neighborhood.

Today's Star has a story on the decision. It has this quote from the city's chief litigation counsel James Osborn: "Some businesses may read the decision to say they no longer have to clear their sidewalk, but I don't believe it relieves their civic duty." Believe me, these folks feel no civic duty to maintain their sidewalks, and the city isn't helping matters by refusing to fine those who don't.

You can read more at the Indiana Law Blog, which also provides the link to the court's decision, by clicking here.


Anonymous said...

I am an adjacent property owner who cleans its sidewalks and abides by the ordinance. However, this is very tough to do. This past month we had to use front end loaders and dump trucks to do so promptly and thourghly. Most businesses simply can't afford to do so especially when the stuff thaws and refreezes. When the city has no choice but to push ice and snow onto the sidewalks, its almost impossible to comply with the ordinance.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the court. As a prior poster said, how are some folks supposed to shovel when there is a foot or more on the ground? A few years ago, some MDs said that removing snow is actually a very good workout. This means that folks with not so great health could end up with a heart attack if they are not careful about it. If I did not have one of those new shovels with the bent handle, my back would have hurt after moving so much snow.

"Personally, I have taken a tumble about four times over the last month because certain property owners made little or no effort to remove the snow and ice from the sidewalks. I'm still filling the pain from the last one I took this past week."

I talk plenty of injury reports from folks who fell one snow and ice. They act like every fall is their meal ticket. This dream of getting a few grand from the property owner finally fades when I tell them I will be adding in the report they were wearing high heels or shoes with flat bottoms. Did you not know it snowed outside? If so, where are your snow boots? How about those pull overs so you can hike through a foot of snow? Why were you not wearing ice cleats? Sorry, but if you knew how many greedy folks demand police reports with dreams of a quick vacation fund, you would understand why the court ruled this way. The place I work at had around 15 or so slip and falls. Some serious injury, some not so serious. One girl broke her leg. The 4" stiletto heels likely payed just as big of a role as the snow/ice still on the ground.

Anonymous said...

If the citizens of the city want sidewalks to be cleared, why not ask that the city pay for this?

It seems that would be much more efficient (and reasonable) than some mandate on people who happen to own property where citizens might want to walk.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Again, this important story is nowhere else.

The second poster actually thinks docs endorse snow shoveling, as a good workout? Is he nuts?

And, you must mean Michigan STREET, don't you?

Just asking. Avenue, Road, etc. Let's not open that can of worms.