So Sue Me

The predicted snow arrived this morning (don’t worry, it’s due to be sunny and 60F by the weeekend, oh no, hang on, you weren’t worrying about that were you?). After it had finished falling, and the wind had finished blowing it around so much, we went out with the snow shovel and shovelled it off the driveway and the sidewalk (that’s pavement to anyone who doen’t speak American) as is the American way – or rather I shovelled and the other half gave expert advice culled from a childhood growing up in Minnesota and then went inside to supervise from the warmth of the house, the novelty of shovelling snow having thoroughly worn off for him round about when he was ten.

I relate this entirely unremarkable tale because if you were to mention anywhere in the UK that members of the public might want to go out and clear the snow off the pavement outside their house then you are generally greeted with the sort of alarm that an elderly maiden aunt might greet the suggestion that she join an orgy. Because if you were to do that you might – no indeed, you almost certainly would – get sued. Despite the fact that nobody has ever been sued for clearing snow and never will be sued for clearing snow, it has somehow got lodged into the British psyche that personal injury lawyers lurk behind every bush, possibly disguised as snowmen, waiting for someone to so much as brush a flake off their front step so they can leap out, push some passing old dear over, and then slap a lawsuit on the offending householder. I was out the council training for being a community councillor and they were wheeling out their winter preparedness scheme which consisted of getting local volunteers to clear snow off the pavements and gritting them so that people might have a fighting chance of stepping outside their front door without breaking a leg. It went like this:

Council chap: just to get it out of the way first, you won’t get sued

Fellow trainees: but what if we do get sued?

Council chap: honestly, you won’t get sued

Fellow trainees: can we get people to sign something to say they won’t sue us?

Council chap: nobody has ever been sued

Fellow trainees: Should we get insurance against getting sued?

Fellow trainees: what if they sue us for *not* clearing the snow?

Fellow trainees: what if we ask someone to clear the snow and they keel over with a heart attack and then sue us?

Me: *silently loses will to live*

Sadly, I still don’t know the official Bigtownshire Council method for approved snow shovelling because we ran out of time for the actual training. This goes a long way to explaining why, the minute it snows, every pavement immediately becomes almost impassable and everyone ends up having to walk in the road.

Now clearly, I’d prefer it if the council cleared and gritted the pavements (and the cycle paths of course) and left it to motorists to voluntarily shovel and grit the roads if they wanted to go anywhere, but even I know that’s not going to happen for a while. And meanwhile, I’d like it a lot if the pavements were cleared, however amateurishly, preferably before they had become icy death traps. So here, people of Britain, is a public service announcement, just for you:


I hope I’ve made that clear.


8 Responses to So Sue Me

  1. I hope nobody gets sued based on your advice, or they might sue you 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    :). You know, in my part of Canada we don’t clear sidewalks either. but i gather out west they do. (cyclist friendsays sidewalks safer for riding than roads because of this). Maybe it’s a western thing? But then, we do have sidewalk plows that plow sidewalks.

  3. As I understood it, householders in the USA are required to keep the sidewalk outside their property clear: they can be sued if they don’t clear the snow?

    Anyway, whenever we have snow here I take great pleasure in clearing both the pavement outside our house, and the well-used alleyway that runs down the side. No-one has sued me yet, and several mums with prams have been very appreciative.

    I blame the loss of community spirit in the UK, the suing thing is just an excuse to stay indoors in front of the X Factor on the telly.

  4. disgruntled says:

    @paul – that did vaguely occur to me but I thought adding a disclaimer would rather ruin the effect
    @anon – Duns has little snow ploughs that it uses for the ginnels and paths. They get a lot of snow though, for some reason
    @Anthony – A group of community councillors are pretty much selected for community spirit, so I was surprised how nervous they were about it. I think it’s a genuine fear, though I’m glad to hear that some people are defying the lawyers and clearing anyway…

  5. The Paper Boy says:

    We have the wee path ploughs here too… but if I get out there before they do with the snow blower, I do the path as far as next door on both sides (about 25 yards of it in total) mostly because it stops the council man leaving a lateral moraine that blocks the driveway I just cleared…

    Thus far I have not been sued.

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  6. disgruntled says:


    Another comment longer than the original blog post, but we’ll let it pass on this occasion…

  7. […] and actually managed to write something for publication. And this month – I’ve been dabbling in the law and train driving while thankfully leaving the weather at […]

  8. […] * this is especially heartening considering that the standard British response to any suggestion that people might want to clear snow off the pavements is to worry that they might get sued […]

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