An Oslo court sent a powerful message to property owners on Thursday: Remove snow and icicles hanging off rooftops in winter, or risk going to jail. Both the owner and manager of an apartment building in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district were sentenced to prison and fined heavily after failing to do so, and after a man walking by was hit on the head by a clump of ice that fell to the ground.
Their defense lawyer signalled that both men would file an immediate appeal. They nonetheless were clearly shaken by the court ruling in favor of the injured party.
The drama began in the late winter of last year, when the now-25-year-old Robin Vedvik Helmersen was walking down the street called Frognerveien on the afternoon of March 16. He was on his way to meet his girlfriend after an exam at school.
Instead, as he walked by the building at Frognerveien 9C, a chunk of ice slid off the roof above him and crashed to the ground, after first hitting Helmersen on the head.
Passersby rushed to his aid including his girlfriend, who had just rounded the corner, saw the commotion and tearfully testified earlier this week that she recognized the shoes of the man lying in a pool of blood on the ground.
For months, Helmersen was on the verge of life and death but he survived. He suffered brain damage, though, remains in a wheel chair and needs constant help. The young student has only recently started attempting to talk.
Building owner pleaded not guilty
The owner of the building had conceded that the accident was tragic, but denied guilt. The case ended up in court, where both he and his manager were sentenced to 75 and 60 days in prison. His real estate company was also ordered to pay Helmersen NOK 500,000 (nearly USD 100,000) in compensation along with a fine of NOK 2 million. The owner and his manager were also ordered to pay NOK 100,000 in court costs.
Defense lawyer Cato Schiøtz told news bureau NTB that they would appeal all points in the verdict. They have disputed whether the ice actually fell from their roof or the neighboring roof, and have claimed their building was secured in accordance with current regulations.
“As we see it, my clients have not been negligent,” Schiøtz told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s impossible to guard 100 percent against ras (in this case, snow and ice falling from rooftops and ledges).”
Family relieved, but faces appeals trial
Severe winters the past few years have boosted the danger of snow and ice building up on rooftops and then crashing down to the sidewalks and streets. That’s given rise to new businesses in Norway that set up warning systems to pedestrians and offer to remove snow and ice with the use of special hydraulic lift equipment, an expensive and time-consuming process for property owners.
Helmersen’s family was relieved by Thursday’s verdict, but had hoped to avoid more time in court. Helmersen himself “was very glad,” his attorney, Christian Lundin, told NRK. “The first thing he said when he heard the judge read the verdict was ‘takk,’ (thank you), and that says it all.”
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