There's a lot of confusion at the moment about what the legal position is over clearing your path (or a neighbour's path, or the path outside your house) of ice - with urban myths and elf'n'safety bollocks getting trotted out, of course. Most news outlets have had a bash at the story, including the BBC and the usual suspects. Richard Madeley has been banging on about it almost all day on Twitter, bless him; but is the Express columnist right when he says:
Legal knowledge mine Jack of Kent, however, is a little less worried by the whole thing. If you do clear a neighbour's path, for example, he says:
Ah but where's the fun in that? Surely the most important thing for a news outlet to do is not represent the facts of the situation, but instead create a nightmarish vision of the world in which the spectre of elf'n'safety or compensation ambulance-chasing bastards who SHOUT AT YOU DURING THE ADVERTS IN JEREMY KYLE are taking over the world, and there's nothing we can do to stop them. Why bother with accuracy, when you can take your readers for a ride in the ghost train?
The Daily Mail's effort appears to be rather similar to the Telegraph's on the same subject - notethe use of the word 'could' and 'may', carefully crafted on this occasion to represent "could well" whereas in fact the truth is "could possibly, under extremely unlikely circumstances". The Mail says:
Householders and businesses have been warned not to clear snowy pavements - as they could be sued if someone slips.
The Telegraph says:
Yet the professional body that represents health and safety experts has issued a warning to businesses not to grit public paths – despite the fact that Britain is in the grip of its coldest winter for nearly half a century.
Householders and businesses with the Mail; just businesses with the Tele. Who are these experts, anyway? Telegraph:
Clearing a public path “can lead to an action for damages against the company, e.g. if members of the public, assuming that the area is still clear of ice and thus safe to walk on, slip and injure themselves”.
I would say that if that's the case, it's not really 'clear' is it, but then I'm probably nitpicking. Both the Mail and the Telegraph quote John McQuater, who gets a nice bit of publicity with this quote:
John McQuater, president of the National Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, admitted: 'If you do nothing you cannot be liable. If You do something, you could be liable to legal action.'
Which is odd. Because look at this quote in a Guardian article which mentions ice clearing:
4. I've cleared the snow from our driveway. Am I opening myself up to a claim if someone slips?
This is an urban myth. If you do the reasonable thing and clear your drive, you are not opening yourself up to a possible claim, except in very exceptional circumstances.
"This is a common misconception," McQuater says. "By clearing the snow from your paths, you do not invite any extra liability that wouldn't have existed had you done nothing and left the snow on the ground. The only circumstance in which you might invite a claim was if you acted completely unreasonably, and somehow created a new latent hazard that had not existed before your actions."
Yes, it's our old friend John McQuater! Funny how the 'except in very exceptional circumstances' in the Guardian from McQuater becomes 'could be liable' in the Mail and Telegraph. I wonder if he qualified that quote when he spoke to them with an 'except in very exceptional circumstances' and that bit didn't make it into the final printed copy?
Who knows. But as ever, news stories aren't about the truth - they're about a certain worldview which needs to be reinforced. So if you think compensation culture is running rampant and elf'n'safety has truly gone mad, why bother finding out what the facts actually are, when you can go looking for the quotes that support your point of view, and which will infuriate your readers most?
Thanks to Iain for the tipoff!