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Tilting the Scales Business Issues with a Legal Slant

Running Lawn Sprinklers During a Freeze Can Cause a Liability Issue

Posted in Property Issues

Crazy Mow’s Manacures wanted to keep the soil wet around its landscaping plants this winter to keep them from freezing. However, when its automatic sprinkler system at the corner of Main and the Interstate Highway came on this morning at 4:00 a.m. the overspray showered the street just the other side of Crazy Mow’s fence. Plummeting temperatures created a large ice patch on Crazy Mow’s driveway and the adjacent street intersection. The police reported that Picabo Street, a downhill skier from Idaho, was hospitalized in critical condition after she hit the icy patch in front of Crazy Mow’s and careened into a tree. Following a minor crash at the same location last week Crazy Mow’s was verbally warned by police about turning off the sprinklers in freezing conditions. Although the sprinklers were not running when officers arrived they followed the icy trail caused by the runoff to Crazy Mow’s Manacures. This time Crazy Mow’s received a citation because city ordinance bars sprinklers from running once the temperature drops below 35 degrees. Is a city citation all that Crazy Mow’s needs to worry about?

No. In addition to the relatively minor city citation, Crazy Mow’s Manacures has a real risk of being sued by Picabo Street. Particularly after having been warned the week before, Crazy Mow’s was, most probably, negligent in failing to turn off its automatic sprinkler system. A person or company can be negligent if it fails to use the care that a reasonably prudent and careful person would under the same or similar circumstances. Crazy Mow’s knew of the possible problem, was warned, and failed to act. Unless Picabo did something to contribute to the accident and her injuries, Crazy Mow’s Manacures stands to share at least some responsibility for her injuries and the damage to her car. Of course, Crazy Mow’s may have unsuccessfully tried to turn off its automatic sprinklers as the City of Dallas did this month. Some cities require sprinkler systems to be equipped with freeze gauges that turn off the water in cold weather.

Tilting the Scales in Your Favor

Have your lawn irrigation service find out if there are city ordinances affecting sprinkler systems in freezing temperatures. Turn off your sprinkler when freezing conditions are expected, or at the very least, make sure that there is no overspray on city streets and sidewalks. Finally, check your comprehensive general liability policy insurance policy. You may well have insurance coverage for such claims.