5 Public Liability Exposures for Municipalities
No municipality wants to deal with the consequences of a serious injury from a sidewalk fall, unsafe playground equipment or municipal vehicle. Elected officials should be proactive in addressing risks that pose harm to the public and potentially lead to lawsuits. Besides a negative effect on budgets, protecting the public should be the first priority of all municipal leaders.
Common liabilities, and how to prevent them, include:
Develop and implement a sidewalk inspection and maintenance program that identifies hazards that can lead to injury. Be sure to conduct routine inspections, especially in high-foot-traffic areas such as business districts, schools and churches, and create a process for logging inspection, repairs and resident complaints. If your region is prone to colder weather, determine where the responsibility for snow and ice removal lies. Also, ensure that all sidewalks are compliant with ADA requirements.
Parks and Playgrounds
Parents and those who supervise children assume that your municipal park and playground equipment is safe and harmless. To follow-through on this assumption, municipalities should inspect their park and playground equipment on a regular basis, document inspections and follow-up on any deficiencies. Compliance with guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission is ideal. They provide specific details, including types of surface protection and specific measurements for equipment. All play equipment should be made for “commercial use” and not “residential use.”
Municipal Vehicle Ride-Alongs
By allowing family members and other non-authorized citizens to ride along in municipal-owned vehicles, your municipality is exposed to a greater liability from claims and lawsuits arising from potential injuries. The governing body should be responsible for authorizing a written ride-along policy that all law enforcement officers and emergency responders have been trained to meet. Participants should be required to sign a waiver releasing your municipality from any damages or injury which may occur as a result of the ride-along experience. If the participant is under the age of 18, ensure a parent or legal guardian has signed the waiver. Before each ride-along, the trained officer or emergency responder must review what is expected of the rider’s behavior.
If festivals, parades, fireworks and 5k runs are common in your municipality, additional potential risk exists. Address who has direction and supervision of the event, considering whenever others use municipal property the liability exposure increases. If an outside organization is responsible for the event, it’s only natural that they assume risks of the event. Municipalities should always require an outside sponsoring organization to sign an agreement that includes hold harmless indemnification language in favor of the municipality and requires proof of insurance. Ensure the certificate of insurance includes the required types and limits of insurance.
Neighborhood Block Parties
Neighborhood block parties don’t immediately come to mind when discussing a municipality’s liability. However, if emergency vehicles are unable to respond to a 911 call due to occupied streets, or nearby residents aren’t notified that the streets are closed, this could potentially cause injury. Be sure to develop guidelines for residents to follow prior to the party. Require signatures from 80% of the residents living on the street that is requesting to be blocked off and ensure that someone over the age of 21 is organizing the party. Remember that if any alcoholic beverages are to be on city property (including the street and sidewalk) the organizers of the party must first obtain a liquor license. Require that music be turned off by 10 p.m., people off the streets by 11 p.m. If the party closes major streets and significantly impacts traffic flow, it should be considered a “Special Event” and be reviewed under the Special Event guidelines noted previously.
These are just a few of the many liabilities that municipalities are faced with daily. Experts at risk management, Assurance can provide guidance and protection that fits your municipality’s needs. Talk to an Assurance representative today.
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