Guilderland tightens law to avoid injury claims

Enterprise file photo

Sidewalks and crosswalks have been added to the list of Guilderland entities for which written notice of defects must be filed in order for someone who has been injured to win a claim.

GUILDERLAND — Patterned on state law, Guilderland has tightened its own law on residents’ obligation to inform the town of defects in highways, bridges, streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, or culverts before any payments could be awarded for injuries.

Before any damages can be awarded, a resident must have filed a written complaint that one of those town structures is “defective, out of repair, unsafe, dangerous, or obstructed” and there must have been “a failure or neglect within a reasonable time after giving such notice to repair or remove the defect, danger, or obstruction complained of.”

The highway superintendent is to submit the notices to the town clerk who, in turn, is to present them to the town board.

Robyn Gray, the first of three residents to speak at an online hearing, asked what would happen if a snowplow hit a sidewalk, which no one knew, and then, because of the damage, someone broke a leg.

Councilwoman Christine Napierski, a lawyer, responded that there could be an exception to the rule if the town had created the hazard.

“If there’s no prior notice, there’s no cause of action,” she said, asking how the highway department could know of every broken sidewalk or pothole.

Supervisor Peter Barber said that the town’s insurance company has pointed out that Guilderland did not have sidewalks and crosswalks listed in its current law.

“This is the fox controlling the hen house,” said Guilderland resident John Haluska who also asked about having any notifications of defects made public.

Without legal safeguards in place, Barber said, “Our premiums would go up by hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

He also said, “We’ve been very lucky … all it takes is one bad claim.” There are no claims against the town of Guilderland, said Barber.

Councilwoman Rosemary Centi said that, during her 13-year tenure as town clerk, “maybe two” notifications of defects had been filed. The town’s current clerk, Lynne Buchanan, said there are now “zero” notifications filed.

“We spend a lot of money … maintaining our facilities,” said Barber, noting that the highway crew is constantly making repairs.

“I hear what you’re saying: It seems unfair,” Napierski said to Haluska, “but it’s our job to protect the town.”

Guilderland resident Christine Duffy said that, when she walks on town sidewalks, since she no longer drives, she has run into obstructions like shopping carts, tires, sticks, and debris. She was concerned that response from the town to clear these obstacles was slow over weekends.

Napierski responded that the wording “within a reasonable time” came from state law and said, “We would litigate in court whether it’s reasonable or not.”

Barber noted that the law, which passed unanimously, is for people who would be filing for accidents or injuries.

Napierski suggested that perhaps concerns about a blocked sidewalk could be handled through the town’s website.

“I don’t think it belongs in this particular law,” she said.


Other business

In other business at its Feb. 1 meeting, the Guilderland Town Board:

— Accepted the annual report, for 2021, from the town’s Conservation Advisory Committee and authorized its filing with the state’s environmental conservation commissioner as required by state law.

In 2021, the committee, which was increased to nine members, reviewed 13 subdivision applications, three more than in 2020, the report says.

Board members praised the committee’s work and the detail of Chairman John Wemple’s report. Councilwoman Amanda Beedle called the committee members “great stewards of the town”;

— Appointed Michael Gilmore to the position of part-time emergency medical technician;

— Made a provisional appointment of Kaitlin Culpepper to the post of telecommunicator in the police department;

— Waived the building fee relating to damage caused by a Feb. 10, 2021 fire at 8 Jani Lane;

— Approved authorization of funding for a sidewalk on Western Avenue from Devonshire Drive to Mercy Care Lane as requested by the state’s Department of Transportation. Barber said this is the “last step in the construction of the sidewalk” that goes to the Guilderland Public Library.

Federal funds will pay for 80 percent of the costs and the town will pay for 20 percent. The resolution adopted by the board says that $152,600 had been previously appropriated from the town’s general fund for the project and that now $801,224 is being appropriated.

Barber said that a lot of the town’s 20-percent share is fulfilled with work to be done by the highway crew, such as seeding the lawn next to the sidewalk after its installation.;

— Authorized the transfer station to solicit bids for grinding and removing yard waste; and

— Heard from Barber that the board, at its next meeting, on Feb. 15, will be approving bids to frame a new emergency medical services station to be built at the entrance to the town’s golf course, largely funded by monies from the federal American Rescue Plan.

The board will also discuss the town’s sign code as its moratorium ends in March.

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