Help clear pavements - but you could be sued

Sarah HallCouncil chiefs today urged the public to lend a hand in tackling the snow and ice from pavements as Norfolk braces itself for further snow - but warned they could face legal action if they make matters worse.Sarah Hall

Council chiefs today urged the public to lend a hand in tackling the snow and ice from pavements as Norfolk braces itself for further snow - but warned they could face legal action if they make matters worse.

Norfolk County Council says its winter workforce is often tied up with gritting prioritised main roads during the cold snap, which means pavements are further down the list of work.

But councillors have called for community spirit to help beat the freeze and urged people, including householders and shopkeepers, to clear freshly-fallen snow from paths and pavements before it turns into treacherous ice.

Councillors said many people were reluctant to lend a hand because of 'unfounded worries' they could be sued if somebody slipped and fell on an area they had tried to clear.

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation, said: 'We really do want to get the message out that people can take community spirited action to make public areas safer.

'By taking sensible steps such as sweeping newly-fallen snow from pavements outside shops or houses before it can compact into ice, they won't make themselves liable for any slips or falls that might happen afterwards.

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'Of course they have got to use a bit of common sense and make sure they don't inadvertently make things worse. With temperatures so low, pouring a kettle of boiling water on to a frozen pavement would be very ill-advised because it would soon freeze.'

Council officers say people who clear snow from paths would only be liable in the case of an accident if the claimant could prove they did not take reasonable care in what had been done.

That means they are unlikely to be liable if they only partially cleared the snow, but could be if they did something which made it worse.

Solicitor Gordon Dean, a former city and county councillor, who has offices in Norwich and Great Yarmouth, said people would not usually face being sued for accidents after removing snow.

He said: 'I certainly can't make a fortune from people slipping on the pavements. It doesn't work like that. Generally the council is right in that people who clear them won't be liable.

'However, if you do clear the footpath it is a question of whether you make it worse. If there's black ice under the snow and you clear the snow to reveal it you might make it much more dangerous so you would be liable. But there is no harm in using some grit or shovelling freshly fallen snow off the pathway.'

Retired university lecturer Valerie Hardman broke her leg when she slipped in St Matthew's Road in Thorpe Hamlet in the week before Christmas.

Mrs Hardman, who lives off St Leonard's Road, said: 'I wondered which department or officials made the decision not to grit that road - what the council's policy is. If they thought they would save money, it won't, because of the cost to the NHS and the extra benefits people will need if they are off work because of an accident.'

She backed calls for the community to use grit boxes to clear paths and said: 'I see no reason why, if there's no legal impediment, why grit boxes can't be at strategic locations and the community could be mobilised to use the grit.'

Elsewhere, North Norfolk District Council, has faced public criticism about its failure to grit council car parks and seafront zig-zag paths in the first cold snap and said it did not do so on the advice of insurers.

Council spokesman Nick Manthorpe said: 'Our insurers advised us that unless we could guarantee full and faultless gritting of our property, like car parks and the accesses to the prom in Cromer, we would be liable if anyone had a slip.

'We realised that we wouldn't be able to keep our 40-or-so car parks totally clear, and all the time. You can't completely grit a car park if there are any cars parked on it, for instance.'

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