Opposing the Snow Shoveling Ordinance

Letter: Shoveling ordinance would snow homeowners with suits
Friday, September 3, 2004
The Watertown Tab

On Sept. 15 our Town Council will revisit a measure that would hold private property owners responsible for what happens on public property. I am referring to the proposed snow-shoveling ordinance.
The Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government recognize this question boils down to a classic tension between individual freedom and public safety. Therefore, it requires compromise, balance and unassailable safeguards for homeowners. After all, we are not facing a crisis that demands draconian measures.
Among other problems, this ordinance is a trial lawyers dream. Any language that requires private persons to clear public sidewalks could shift additional liability onto homeowners. Anyone injured could bolster his or her case by claiming a homeowner violated a town ordinance. Further, the attorneys we've spoken with agree; the odds of a private citizens being successfully sued are arguably increased by such a measure.
This could have an immediate financial impact on every resident. Property owners would be forced to purchase the appropriate insurance. Assuming such coverage were available, the premiums will increase. Those costs would eventually be passed on to tenants.
Therefore, we call upon the Town Council to deliberate this matter further. Expert testimony from underwriters and attorneys specialized in indemnity must be sought. The end result should be a compromise that makes it unequivocally clear that the responsibility for the safety of pedestrians on public sidewalks remains with the Town.
We believe the only solution is a measure encouraging property owners to help shovel and sand the Town's sidewalks. Any language containing a requirement will inevitably lead us into the murky waters of convoluted liability and into the dark hole of endless litigation. Nonetheless, we are willing to hear other proposals, so long as they include guaranties that no private person would have to assume any additional liability.
We encourage the residents to call their councilors and ask them to craft a measure that makes common sense for everyone. We need a resolution or ordinance that addresses public safety and at the same time explicitly protects homeowners from legal action.
We also challenge councilors and organizations purporting to defend our “civil liberties” to join the fight and protect the rights of law-abiding homeowners.
Finally we urge residents; attend the Council meeting on Sept. 15. Decisions are made by those that show up!
John DiMascio
Watertown Citizens For Common Sense Government

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