Let’s see, it’s been roughly three weeks since I pledged to write daily. In that time, I’ve had plenty of stories to share and zero minutes with which to share them. It seems that whenever I find my literary groove, life takes a twisty curvy turn through overgrown briar patches littered with stress, ridiculousness, and imminent dread.
As if it isn’t enough that the United States Post Office is preparing to sue us because of our Stairs of Doom, we’ve been told that my wife’s mother isn’t expected to hold on much longer. Add in the stress that comes with kooky kids and a fully loaded project board, and it’s easy to see how life’s demands can suppress the will to write.
I’ll get into my mother-in-law’s situation with tomorrow’s post, but first I’d like to share my post office story. It’s an interesting one.
Apparently, the postal carrier walking our route fell on our steps and injured his ankle. As a result, the post office feels that we should reimburse them for every dime they spent on insurance, worker’s compensation, and “inconvenience.”
In turn, we feel they’re insane.
The initial letter we received stated that because our mailbox is by our front door, the porch and the three steps leading up to it presented a hazard. The letter went on to say that their employees are trained to keep an eye out for such potential hazards and be proactive in warning the homeowner so it can be corrected.
This is being proactive?
The mailbox in question has been beside our front door since the invention of mail. Our house was built right around the time that the Pony Express began lassoing and breaking in mustangs from the plains in preparation for their domestic duties. How is it that in the 150 years of the home’s existence, including many decades of “modern day” mail delivery, we were never apprised of the apparent danger that three steps can present?
Counting our home, 100% of the houses on our street have their mailbox attached to their front door. To access these mailboxes, treacherous stairs must be navigated. Sometimes two, three, even FOUR steps need to be mastered. And just when they manage to reach the summit of the front porch, they have to turn and precariously ease their way back down.
All without the aid of Sherpas.
I’m trying to think how we’re liable and I’ve spoken with a few attorneys. According to what I can find, we can be found liable for damages if we A) knew of the hazard and failed to act on it in a reasonable amount of time; B) were previously warned of the hazard and failed to correct it; or C) presented a dangerous situation due to code violations or poor construction.
Let’s address this, shall we?
A. In all fairness, I am fully willing to admit that we did have prior knowledge of the fact that we had steps leading to and from our front porch. I know this because we walk them every day. But unless we installed an elevator, an escalator, or bordered said stairs with bubblewrap and goosedown pillows, I don’t know how we could have “acted” on it. The steps are well within code, were new as of last year, and are in great condition.
B. We most certainly were not warned about the hazard beforehand. Instead, we were warned of the pseudo-hazard afterwards. We agreed to drive a post into our front garden and install a new mailbox so that future carriers wouldn’t have to endure the stress of walking up and down steps, but we’re doing this more out of courtesy than necessity. I have to wonder if every home in the neighborhood has been subsequently forewarned about the hazards their porches present, or if they only reserve these kinds of letters for post-injury proactive situations.
C. As stated, the steps in question are relatively new, in great condition, and well within code. They are 4+ feet wide, and while they are claiming to have photographs that show there was some snow on one side of the stairs, it stands to reason that this would be the case considering it was February with snow in the forecast. It appears he stepped on the only portion of the steps that had snow on it, which leads me to summarize this excerpt from a prior similar case that the defense won:
“On cross examination, the witness, who was also a former mail carrier, testified that the Postal Service is extremely mindful of and cautious with regard to snow, ice and other dangerous conditions which might be found along a postal carrier’s route and accordingly, the carriers are given explicit instructions regarding the necessity to exercise extreme care and regarding the proper manner in which to deal with dangerous conditions with which they are confronted.”
Because we weren’t home to catch snowflakes as they fell from the sky, we were unable to tend to any snow removal. That said, we’re told only a portion of the stairs had snow. Is this exercising extreme care? I totally feel bad for the guy, and I’m thankful that he’s okay otherwise, but a slip doesn’t automatically equate to liability. Or does it? According to the post office, it does. Even though they have insurance and federally-backed worker’s compensation, they want to dig in our pockets to cover it.
The carrier himself refused to pursue anything so the post office decided to go it alone. We’re told they’re going to send us a bill, which we’ll immediately fight. While they keep telling us that “this is what homeowner’s insurance is for,” right is right and I’m not about to let them treat it as easy money. If we lose, fine, we’ll file with our insurance, but I just refuse to believe that we can be found liable in this situation. Considering a jury of our peers would be making the determination, and considering most will be logical, it would take a travesty of justice to lose.
If being clumsy or having an accidental fall means we’re automatically guilty by default and expected to shell out thousands of dollars, then I don’t want mail at all. They can keep it. I’m all for getting a post office box but I’d hate to bear the potential liability of someone jamming a finger or suffering a paper cut while trying to slip mail into it.
We’ve been wracking our brains trying to think of ways we could have prevented this. Nerf sidewalks? Pillowed borders instead of stone? An elevator? An escalator? Could we have just beamed them up somehow? Or maybe stood guard and then carried them up upon arrival? How many homes in America have steps? Are we alone? Is our home a house of horrors with diabolical stairs and a porch of woe?
No one…and I mean no one on our street has a mailbox in any more of a convenient location than us. Everyone up and down the street has stairs, a porch, and a doorside mailbox. We just happen to be the lucky winners of the post office’s liability lottery.
I understand that the post office is facing historical losses in revenue but going after homeowners because the postal carrier didn’t exhibit the extreme care and caution we’re told they’re trained to exercise isn’t the way to reverse it.
I hope it leads to nothing because it’ll be a sad testament to the average American’s plight should the inexplicable happen. I’m sorry he fell, I’m sorry he was injured, but this doesn’t mean we should be sued because of it.
Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night…
But porches can grind it to a halt.