Property owners often blow their grass clippings onto adjacent streets and roads. A problem may arise if or when those grass clippings on the road cause an accident, most often expected to be an accident involving a motorcycle losing its grip on the roadway. In fact, some research suggests that grass on roadways can sometimes be as slippery as grease on roadways.
Remarkably, Ohio law does not directly, explicitly prohibit the dangerous practice of blowing grass clippings onto roadways.
There is a state law that makes it illegal to place injurious materials onto roadways. And, that law gives examples of injurious materials, including “tacks, bottles, wire, glass, nails, or other articles which may damage or injure any person” or vehicle. Most non-attorneys would reasonably conclude that this law precludes blowing grass clippings on roads, because grass clippings could injure a person on a motorcycle. However, that conclusion is misplaced.
In 1952, an Ohio Court of Appeals decided whether mud placed on a roadway fit the definition of an “other article which may cause damage or injure any person or vehicle.” In that case, the court interpreted the law’s precise sequence of words and applied a method of legal interpretation of the law to conclude that mud was not an item that was prohibited by that law from being placed on a roadway.
The legal reasoning of the case concluded that because there are examples printed in the law before the words “or other articles” is printed in the law, the Ohio General Assembly intended that that law only prohibit placement of items that are very similar to nails, bottles and glass. In other words, the court concluded that inclusion of examples narrowed the definition “other articles.”
Under the reasoning in the 1952 case, grass clippings would be likened to mud, an item that, if placed upon a roadway, would not be considered illegal under the law that precludes injurious items from being placed on roadways.
There is a separate, Ohio law (called “vehicular vandalism”) that makes it a crime to knowingly throw or place an object at, onto or in the path of any vehicle. This law most obviously addresses the issue of people dropping items from interstate overpasses onto moving cars below. The Ohio vehicular vandalism law is relatively new, so there is little caselaw defining its exact scope or application. However, Ohio’s vehicular vandalism law might be used to prohibit placing cut grass on roadways.
Notably, several municipalities have passed local ordinances under those municipalities’ police power to prohibit blowing grass clippings onto roadways.
And, as always, a private person who is injured as a direct result of an accident foreseeably caused by grass clippings on a roadway may have an independent, civil cause of action against the person who placed the grass on the roadway.
Thus, blowing cut grass onto roadways may not be illegal everywhere in Ohio under all circumstances. However, placing grass clippings on roadways should be avoided if only because it is the right thing to do.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.