Thursday, November 20, 2008

On the Trail of the Liability for Liability

Hillsdale readers will find Steve Duin's column in today's Oregonian intriguing. It's the same topic of liability for hiking accidents that I addressed here earlier this week.

Duin builds his story around SWTrails' founder, president and driving force, Don Baack, who is also the president of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association.

Duin makes the whole right-of-way/liability issue seem like a walk in the woods. He puts it in the same category as Don's stepping up and having SWTrails build a pedestrian bridge built in Stephens Creek Park.

If only ...

Mayor-elect Sam Adams is quoted as saying that he has been "pushing the legal shop to come up with something that works in the real world."

He could be pushing a wet noodle.

Let's see what the City's legal minds come up with in time for our meeting with City officials on Dec. 2 about this issue.

In the meantime, Duin can expect to hear from many property owners who, even if they are eventually freed of liability, don't like hikers skirting their property lines. Absurd, I know, but it's a fact. When the Portland Tribune wrote about this issue months ago, things got nasty and personal very fast in the on-line comments section.

Then there's the little matter of whether the volunteers' trail improvements are up to code. "Red Tape" alert, but several of the property owners will tell you that volunteer-constructed steps are too steep, handrails should be required, and railroad ties are slick and dangerous in the rain. All of which is why they didn't want to be stuck with liability for an accident waiting, as they say, to happen.

So the bright red ribbon Duin ties around the trails package is misleading. I'm certain he will hear from all those folks he didn't talk to. (I checked his blog at noon and there were no comments. Folks may be responding to him directly at

I hope that everyone concerned is at the table when we meet with the officials. Duin might like to join us.

Meanwhile, Don told me this morning that the City has assumed liability on many trails already. It can do so in Hillsdale too on a case-by-cases basis, he says. So why doesn't it? Could it be because the liability problem provides cover for the property owners?

Stay tuned.

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