The Post Office Delivers…a Lawsuit?

by Greg on March 14, 2013

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?

Please.

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.

________________________________________________________

{ 33 comments }

Brandon S March 14, 2013 at 11:43 pm

There is a part of me that now wants to put a sign on my own front porch that says something like “warning, these are steps. Use at your own risk.” Just in case.

Sandy March 15, 2013 at 12:34 am

I am sure if you inform the Post Office that you will be asking for them to pay your legal fees once the case is thrown out of court from sheer ridiculousness, they will rethink their position. It is easy to cry “sue” when you feel you have nothing to lose, but something else entirely when you might be faced with spending Uncle Sam’s nonexistent money!

Brian the Kwyjibo March 15, 2013 at 1:15 am

This claim against you is absurd… in other words, par for the course with any government entity today.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds, so long as they don’t have to navigate any treacherous stairs. Especially stairs with snow or rain or gloom on them. So please keep yours free of all gloom and precipitation, that our brave couriers may forge ahead in the noble pursuit of their duties. Oh, also please ensure your stairs and the surrounding area are well-lit, free of spiders, and certified courier-safe by OSHA and the Postmaster General’s Office of Stair, Ramp, and Sidewalk Safety. Otherwise, you may be held financially liable.”

It’s pretty clear what’s happening here: they ran a $15.9 Billion deficit last year. Ending Saturday delivery is projected to save $1.9B annually. That leaves $14B they still have to come up with. $14B / $320 Million U.S. citizens = $43.75. If every man, woman, and child forks over 44 bucks, the P.O. would be in the black. You don’t want to cough up your household’s $180 share? They have ways of getting it out of you, negligent homeowner with partially snow-covered stairs!

Natalie March 15, 2013 at 2:35 am

I’m shocked it has even got this far. It’s absurd!

I wonder if they are also suing the mailman’s footwear company for failing to provide adequate grip on his shoes to prevent his slip or fall? Hmmm… did the mailman take adequate care and maintenance of his footwear to ensure that he had sufficient ‘tread’ and wasn’t endangering himself!

Don’t forget to put a sun canopy up. Don’t want Postie getting dazzled by sunlight now 🙂

Shan @ Last Shreds Of Sanity March 15, 2013 at 3:17 am

I told you, this is what the USPS does. They never pay for WC claims because they sue whoever had the misfortune of owning the property the work-related injury occurred on.

Besides, they have to make up for the losses on that branded clothing line they just came out with.

By the way, I just figured out where thet $15.9 million dollar loss came from. 😀

I hope you win. I also hope that the USPS and federal government in general starts viewing worker’s comp claims as something they already have coverage on. I mean, this IS what worker’s comp insurance is for, right?

Tonja Price March 15, 2013 at 4:00 am

I can see warming signs going up on porches all over America. Good luck to you. I’m sure you will win, especially once the judge sees this case.

Your rendition had me rolling. Thanks for the morning chuckle.

meg March 15, 2013 at 4:28 am

I’ve been following this on facebook.. and I must say, they are being so totally ridiculous. It’s laughable! How any sane group of people could find fault by the homeowner for something like this, is beyond me. Fight it, and make them pay the legal fees. Make sure they know they’ll be paying the legal fees. As kids say … they’re cray cray.

Pat March 15, 2013 at 6:20 am

Great letter! Go fight WIN!!!!!

Andrew Reese March 15, 2013 at 6:40 am

Any chance this will expand to a class action lawsuit? Because I have been to your house, and I have some ankle pain. I don’t recall a specific injury, but it seems if there is a precedent for your stairs being dangerous, more than likely you bear responsibility for my pain and suffering.

Could you pick the lawsuit papers up at my house? I don’t feel comfortable dropping them off.

Mrs. TellingDad March 15, 2013 at 7:32 am

How about this, any further injuries that occur on the stairs will be referred to your office. 🙂

Andrew Reese March 15, 2013 at 8:05 am

Nice. We’ll work out a kickback scheme. Live off the fat of the insurance companies and legal system.

Andrew Reese March 15, 2013 at 8:07 am

Oh, and put some snow from few remaining snow banks in the freezer. We’re going to need it to make this work.

Joanna March 15, 2013 at 7:28 am

Absolutely speechless at the absurdity, yet even more so by the fact I am not more surprised by it. Good luck!

holly March 15, 2013 at 8:01 am

I’m sure that the postal rules are different in each state…but a few years back I had a similar problem.

At my old house, my mailbox was also next to my front door, and we had a gate across the entrance to our porch to keep our dogs (or toddler) from escaping out onto our busy street when we opened the front door. Our mail carrier refused to either step over said gate (it was at about knee level) or open said gate to deliver our mail. The post office also refused to allow us to move our mailbox out to the street on a post.

Thanks for being so flexible mail carriers. You just inspired me to make sure I pay all of my bills on line, go paperless, and send only E-cards. :p

Rob March 15, 2013 at 8:08 am

I feel that if you would have meet the mailman with open arms in the driveway like most Americans do when they are delivering bills and other crap this situation could have been avoided but now since you were to lazy to do your part you will now have to pay the USPS. I am not sure why you are so surprised by this but now I guess you are going to have to learn the hard way. Also, if you aren’t going to be home to catch the snow flakes so that is doesn’t accumulate on that on small part of one step why not be nice a draw a HUGE sign letting the mailman know that he needs to watch his step. This seems like common sense but I guess in your case it wasn’t.

Trisha March 15, 2013 at 8:20 am

I have a tiny step up to my door. Maybe I should concrete it in.

Trish March 15, 2013 at 10:01 am

Those tricky, devious stairs, they just love to seem oh so innocent, until they throw you off of them- they’re in league with the tables that jump out at you for you to hit your shin on.

Seriously though, this is beyond ridiculous. My husband works for a food delivery service where they sell people food at their homes, and despite multiple trips up and down stairs (one to get order and another to carry the food, sometimes heavy bags of it) he has yet to hurt himself on stairs. He knows that if he goes too fast or is stupid enough to step on the ONE part that is slick then it’s his fault. But, that said the post office has need of money so they figure easy target? There’s never a shortage of people believing that suing will solve their money problems- they just need an excuse to sue.

Laura March 15, 2013 at 10:01 am

Many years ago I took in an old collie/shepherd mix that appeared one day. The poor old guy was partially blind, hard of hearing… and unneutered; so he was kind of *leery* when approached.

A few weeks later a sheriff’s deputy showed up at my door, saying a group of kids supposedly came into my yard to “play” with an old dog and that the dog had bitten a kid! I didn’t know of these kids; had never seen them around, let alone in my back yard. I knew nothing of any incident until that moment. Luckily, the deputy knew the kid’s family due to domestic issue calls. He said the kid didn’t appear injured at all and personally thought the family might be trying to make a buck, so he just issued a verbal warning. (Whew! I was 24; in school; living in a rental and didn’t have a pot to pee in.)

When I said something to the deputy about posting Beware of Dog signs, his response was “No, DO NOT.” By putting up a notice, it meant that I was cognizant that the dog might be dangerous and I could/would be held liable. He stated that if the animal was in a kennel behind an 8 ft. fence and someone scaled the fence, got into the kennel and got bit, I could be sued and lose because the Beware of Dog notice! I was floored!

The moral of the story: Whatever you do, DO NOT post a warning sign—even in jest. The law says it means you know there’s enough “danger” to post a sign of warning. Just get rid of those badazz steps and learn to levitate!

BTW, we also have a mail-slot and a couple of mailman stories. Most USPS people around here work hard for their pay and are good people. But a couple are just whiny troublemaking pains-in-the-butt. Sounds like yours could be one of the good ones since it’s not he that’s suing.

Shan @ Last Shreds Of Sanity March 15, 2013 at 11:49 am

The rule on WC cases with the USPS is that if the employee refuses to sue, the Post Office is required to do it on his/her behalf.

Basically, the government will sue you for any reason. And the feds can’t figure out why they’re broke??

Nancy B March 15, 2013 at 10:42 am

I want to scream for you. AAARRRRGHH! OK, I just did. Now go kick some government butts.

Jenna March 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

I’m the daughter of a former postal employee and oh….the stories I could tell you.

Don’t “go down without a fight” Greg. It’s absolutely absurd. If it was such a hazard, they have little cards that they are to put in your mailbox marking what’s wrong. Heck, my Grandma got one the other day saying another screw needs put in her mailbox. When I was younger and would run out to get the mail, the rural carrier put one in that I was “Standing to close” to the mailbox. Yeah. Sure. I was a little kid but not stupid enough to stand where I would get hit. Apparently me as a five year old had more common sense than your carrier.

Marie March 15, 2013 at 11:35 am

Isn’t a little redundant for you to reimburse the government agency that you pay taxes to run? Technically, didn’t your taxes already partially cover the insurance the Post Office buys? So, if you lost (which you totally shouldn’t), would that money go back to the people? If so, I look forward to my $0.000000000000000000000000000000001.

Terri March 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

Tens of readers are on your side, cheering you on! The upside? Blogger fodder. Good luck!

Minnesota Red March 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Good one.

Minnesota Red March 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I am angry for you, incredulous, and roaring with laughter all at the same time. If I lose weight from this I’ll let you know and we can become rich together.

Naila Moon March 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm

You need to have neon arrows that can be seen as far as space that directs the path for said carrier. This path must also have a canopy over it with side flaps…you know in case of blowing rain or snow… the path also must be illuminated by solar lamps just in case of paint peel.
The box in question must also be neon and be able to be seen from space and contain NO metal. It must be completely open and larger than your head.
Did I miss anything? Sheesh…

Andrew Reese March 15, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Greg,

You should rewrite the USPS mantra (neither rain nor snow…). And then offer that to the post office for compensation of their expenses.

Mishka March 15, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I hope that sanity prevails in this case…I can’t see how you could have done anything else, and the fact that the postal carrier isn’t even interested pursuing it should say something.

As far as trying to write…I hear you on that one. I have things pop into my head all day long that I would love to get down on my blog(s), but seem to always end up busy with other things and then when I am at the moment to sit down and write, I end up taking care of other “To Dos” on the computer instead.

Each and every day, I tell myself that once I get “this and that” out of the way, I will sit down and devote time to it…and each time I have a new “this and that” to focus on…

Madelyn March 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Wait. You’re saying that some people DON’T meet their mailman at the bottom of the steps every day and carefully and lovingly carry them up?!? Huh. No wonder I get odd looks from the neighbors.

Jen-Eighty MPH Mom March 16, 2013 at 10:45 am

I am just flabbergasted by this ridiculousness. So is this the wave of the future for the post office? They are broke so they will just sue the very people who supposedly “keep them in business”?

I really hope this case goes nowhere…but what an extremely stressful situation for you and your family.

Jaye March 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I work for a law firm…what you need to do is find out where this carrier lives and see if he has stairs to his front door (or up to an apartment)… if he does, then the post office has no claim, as this guy apparently goes up stairs every day to his own home.

April March 16, 2013 at 2:51 pm

It’s because of negligent homeowners like you Greg that the rest of us have to endure an increase in stamp prices! Some suggestions to put you back on the responsible path: pay all your bills before you actually buy anything; put your name on the (currently non-existent) “Do Not Write” list; install heated stairs leading to your mailbox. And one last thing…don’t be so cheap next Christmas. This is what happens when you don’t give the carrier the expected $10 in a Holiday Card!

valmg @ Mom Knows It All March 18, 2013 at 9:19 am

Is there not a step up into his vehicle? Wouldn’t that be the consummate danger, since he’s up and down it all day long hundreds of times?
I would fight if possible. If you were never notified there was a potential problem then you couldn’t address said potential problem.

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