TILTON – A state Supreme Court ruling on a disabled man's lawsuit may mean the town has to plow its sidewalks.
William Charles Tinker, 61, of Northfield said he uses a motorized scooter to get around because he suffers from heart and pulmonary disease and arthritis and cannot walk more than 200 feet.
He filed a suit in Belknap County Superior Court in July 2005 in which he maintained that he routinely uses his scooter to travel a sidewalk that crosses over Exit 20 of Interstate 93 and extends easterly to the Routes 3/11 and 140 intersection. The town's failure to keep the sidewalks open during the winter violated his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act, he said in his lawsuit.
"When they don't plow, I have to travel in the breakdown lane and that's really dangerous. I don't know what they were thinking. You can't make a law to break a law,'' Tinker said.
The town responded to his lawsuit by adopting an ordinance that gave selectmen the right to close the sidewalk. The ordinance cited the expense and difficulty of maintaining the sidewalk and the level of public demand for its use, and established a $10 to $20 fine for those using the sidewalk between Dec. 1 and April 1.
In July 2007, Belknap County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler ruled that the adoption of the ordinance had rendered moot the question of whether the town violated Tinker's rights under the ADA. He dismissed the lawsuit.
The state Supreme Court last week ruled that both U.S. Department of Justice guidelines and Federal Highway Administration guidelines prohibit the closing of walkways or passageways to avoid maintenance obligations. The court overruled the dismissal and sent the case back to Belknap County Superior Court.
Tinker, who was represented by attorney James Fox of the Disabilities Rights Center Inc. in Concord, said he was pleased by the ruling and hopes the town will now keep the sidewalk open during the winter months.
He said he is not the only person with a scooter who needs to have that section of the sidewalk open during snowy weather.
"There are a lot of people in the Franklin, Tilton and Northfield areas who use scooters and need to be able to use the sidewalk," he said. "Somebody's going to get killed or seriously hurt if they don't keep it open.''