ROXBURY, NJ – Just in case the dirt beneath your shoes and the trees over your head fail to reveal you’re in a “natural” area while on Memory Lane in Horseshoe Lake Park, you now have lots of signs to clue you in.
“BE ALERT! NATURAL PATH,” say the signs. Others instruct there shall be “NO TEXTING WHILE WALKING.”
If you think the signs are kind of silly, you’re not alone. “The township’s attorney and risk manager recommended that these be put up to reduce our liability,” said Roxbury Township Department of Public Works Director Richard Blood. “We didn’t put these signs up enthusiastically,”
The warning signs, installed Wednesday, appear “every couple hundred feet” along the shady, tree-lined, half-mile-long path, said Blood. There are about 100 of them.
Predictably, their presence is the result of a lawsuit. On April 15, 2013, Stanhope resident Naomi Schiffman fell on Memory Lane “as a result of a dangerous, defective and longstanding condition” on the path, said a notice of tort claim – the precursor to a lawsuit – she submitted three months later.
Schiffman filed the actual lawsuit in September 2014, contending her injury “was caused wholly and solely by reason of the carelessness and negligence” of Roxbury. The dangerous, defective and longstanding condition that Roxbury was negligent in allowing? An exposed cherry tree root, according to Blood.
He said the woman tripped over the root while jogging and broke her arm “resulting in a significant settlement” being paid by the town’s insurer. Blood said he couldn’t reveal the amount of money paid by the insurance company because the terms of the settlement were not made public.
The signs were installed at the recommendation of the township’s risk manager and lawyers, Blood said.
“We live in a litigious society,” said Roxbury Township Attorney Anthony Bucco. “Everybody wants to sue everybody. As a result, if things happen - even if we are completely exonerated - I still take time to go over the facts of cases to see if there are better ways we can protect the township.”
Blood acknowledged there are many trails on township property far more dangerous than Memory Lane. However, those footpaths are in the woods - not in an “improved area” such as Horseshoe Lake Park - and therefore don’t warrant warning signs, he said.
“One of the determining factors in the settlement was that this is an improved park where it is mown, groomed and the trash is picked up on a daily basis,” Blood explained. That said, Roxbury has no intention of closing Memory Lane, paving it, removing the cherry trees or doing anything else beyond placing the warning signs.
“Those trees were purchased and donated by individual families” as memorials to deceased friends and relatives, Blood said. “If we did it again, we’d make the trees about 20 feet apart so we’d have a flat area not encumbered by roots … When the trees were originally planted, they did not envision that this would happen. When you create a planting, you need to think what happens when these things get completely matured.”
On Friday morning, several people walking dogs on Memory Lane said they thought the new signs were kind of ridiculous. “It seems a little extreme,” said one man, who asked that his name not be published. “The signs don’t necessarily blend in with the natural path, but I guess you can’t underestimate how dumb people can be.”