Council liable for berm accidents

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Injury or damage covered by insurance, and lawyer says residents can take city to court if verges aren't mown

The council will save $3 million a year by not mowing grass berms such as these overgrown areas in Segar Ave, Mt Albert. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The council will save $3 million a year by not mowing grass berms such as these overgrown areas in Segar Ave, Mt Albert. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Residents who hurt themselves or damage property while mowing a berm owned by Auckland Council can seek insurance cover from the council.

And anyone who refuses to mow their berm has the right to take a case against the council because by law the berm is its responsibility.

Aucklander Mike Bryce made two insurance claims against the council following berm-mowing accidents.

The first was when his lawn mower blade caught on a phone box in front of his property.

Mr Bryce contacted the then Manukau City Council and an invoice from the repair shop was sent straight to its offices.

"The other one was a commercial building where we were working. A council contractor was mowing a berm and picked up a rock that went through a huge window and the council paid for that straight away - it was on the job so quickly it wasn't funny."

Mr Bryce said many people were unaware of council liability for berm-mowing-related damage.

"People need to know. If something goes wrong while they're mowing out the front on a berm that's the council's [responsibility]; it's covered."

The Auckland Council moved to standardise urban berm-mowing services throughout the city to save about $3 million each year.

Spokesman Glyn Walters confirmed there was a general liability insurance policy in place that covered anything that happened on council-owned berms.

However, there had been no claims since Auckland's eight councils merged in 2010.

Local government consultant lawyer Dr Grant Hewison said residents could take a case against the council for not mowing the berms outside their properties.

"The grass berm is part of the road. The road - including the berm - is owned by the Auckland Council and it is the responsibility of Auckland Transport to manage it," he said.

"The responsibility to mow the berm falls clearly to Auckland Transport and not to adjacent landowners."

Dr Hewison said council authorities could ask residents to mow the berm but they could not legally make them responsible for doing so.

Parks, reserves scruffy too

It's not just the berms that are getting out of control - many parks and reserves throughout the city are looking increasingly scruffy because of unmown lawns, says an Auckland councillor.

Orakei ward representative Cameron Brewer is calling on authorities - namely Auckland Transport - to start taking better care of grassy sections around the city.

"The long grass around Auckland is not limited to suburban berms," he said.
"Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have also stopped mowing many pocket parks, road reserves and grassed traffic islands.

"The central suburbs look increasingly scruffy and let's notforget they are Auckland's shop window."

Mr Brewer pointed out two grassy sections that looked as though they had not seen a lawnmower in weeks - "very long" grass outside Pt Chevalier Library and knee-high grass behind the Ellerslie Racecourse.

"This is mostly about road reserves with no residential guardianship, the elderly, those on low incomes, recent migrants and tenants who in many cases are just not in a position to start maintaining the council's berms."

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