[Letters] To shovel, or not to shovel?

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[Letters] To shovel, or not to shovel?

On Jan. 7, the National Emergency Management Agency announced plans to amend the current snow removal law in Korea. The NEMA introduced a civil penalty system (up to 1 million won [$869]) which was believed to be in effect in four other countries, including Britain, the U.S., Canada and China. The NEMA believes that the current law is not effective enough to promote citizens’ participation in clearing snow and ice from sidewalks or side streets around their houses and buildings.

Out of curiosity, I searched for the City of London Web site and read its snow clearance policy. To my surprise, it was the job of a cleaning service to ensure the free and safe passage of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the city.

In addition, I looked up that country’s “Highways Act 1980,” which states that “a highway authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow and ice.”

In other words, citizens are not under any legal duty to clear snow and ice from a highway including sidewalks.

Shocked by the contradicting evidence, I sent an e-mail inquiry to the authorities in London. Several hours later, I received a short response which stated that “you are correct, removal of snow from the public highway falls within the responsibility of the Local Authority.” It is a big surprise to me as a taxpayer who believes that the Korean government should do its best in conducting legal research on the true nature of the other countries’ practices.

Now, I face a disappointing fact that Britain does not impose any legal duty on citizens to clear snow and ice from sidewalks, which is contrary to what the NEMA alleges in its press release. If you watched TV news in the last several days, you couldn’t miss the comment that British cities were the leading examples which imposed civil penalty on citizens’ violation of the snow clearance law in force.

Interestingly, I found an article in The Times, written by a barrister, who advised not to shovel the snow on the public highway and pavement in London because it could theoretically create legal risk to the property owners and thus they may be liable for negligence or nuisance. Questions boil down to whether the NEMA has done its job properly from the outset. Perhaps, it is time for the NEMA to revisit the meaning of the English expression, “better safe than sorry.”

by An Junseong , Attorney at Law
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