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Fortified mailbox owners in Huron County not liable in paralyzing 2016 crash

Posted at 10:42 AM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 10:42:44-05

HURON COUNTY, Ohio — TheOhio Supreme Court has ruled a Huron County couple is not liable after a truck hit their fortified mailbox and flipped in 2016, leaving the motorist with paralyzing injuries. The issue at hand for the court was decide whether or not the homeowner is liable for the crash given that the driver alleges his pickup truck would not have flipped over had it not been for the fortified mailbox post.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that landowners owe no duty to protect motorists who leave the regularly traveled portion of the road and strike an object in the right-of-way. In Ohio, the right-of-way is a general term used to describe property near the side of a public road.

In December 2016, Cletus Snay crashed his pickup truck into Matthew Burr’s mailbox in Bellevue after hitting a patch of black ice. Snay and his wife filed a lawsuit in Huron County Common Pleas Court. Even though a state trooper determined that Burr's mailbox did not cause the truck to flip, an accident reconstructionist hired by the Snays determined “the unyielding heavy metal pipe mailbox support caused the truck to overturn and led to Snay’s injuries," according to Court News Ohio.

“He slides on black ice and collides with the mailbox post, which, contrary with postal service guidelines, doesn’t break away,” attorney Kathleen St. John explained. “Initiating the rollover sequence which results in Mr. Snay's quadriplegia.”

When determining whether the Burrs were liable, the court looked to its precedent regarding the duties owed to motorists, according to Court News Ohio.The opinion cited the court’s 1982 Manufacturer’s Natl. Bank of Detroit v. Erie Cty. Rd. Comm decision which involved a fatal car crash that occurred at a rural intersection where corn growing in the right-of-way obstructed a motorist’s vision of cross-traffic at a two-way stop. The plaintiffs had sued the township and the corn grower. Regarding the grower, the court found growing crops in the right-of-way served no highway purpose and if the use of the right-of-way was inconsistent with highway purposes and created an unreasonable hazard to motorists, the corn grower could be held liable.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Conner noted the court has repeatedly ruled that subdivisions, landowners and others owe a duty of care to drivers if they create hazards that affect “the safety of ordinary travel on the road.”

She concluded that because the Burr’s mailbox did not affect the safety of ordinary travel on the regularly traveled portion of Young Road, they are not responsible for the injuries suffered by Snay.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Michael P. Donnelly said that Burr created a “mini fortress” to protect his mailbox and that Ohio court precedent allows for landowners to be liable for creating an “unreasonable” hazard in the right-of-way. He believed the case should return to trial court for additional proceedings.

RELATED:Driver sues Huron Co. homeowner after fortified mailbox causes truck to flip; OH Supreme Court reviewing

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