Back to the Jan-Feb 2022 issue

Is the City Liable If Its Snowplow Damages a Mailbox?

City Liability

Q: Our snowplow drivers are very careful, but accidents do happen. Is the city liable if a snowplow damages a resident’s mailbox?

A damaged mailboxLMC: It depends. All liability claims must be evaluated on the specific facts. If a city does not have immunity, the general rule is that a city is liable or financially responsible for damage caused by the city’s negligence. Negligence is proven by showing the city owed a duty of care, the city violated its duty of care, and the violation caused the damage.

If a snowplow hits the mailbox, the city is probably liable, but it will depend on various factors such as the location of the mailbox in the right of way, the design of the mailbox, and whether the mailbox meets U.S. Postal Service guidelines. If snow is merely pushed into the mailbox, city liability is less likely.

Many cities have adopted a policy that attempts to limit the city’s liability to a certain dollar amount and only if the snowplow actually hits the mailbox. While the enforceability of these policies is unclear, such policies may help protect the city if a mailbox is damaged. If the city hires a contractor to plow snow, the contractor should be required to defend and indemnify the city for mailbox damage claims. For more information and a model snowplowing policy, visit

Answered by Risk Management Attorney Chris Smith:


Public Employment

Q: What is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and how was it recently changed?

student loan forgiveness papers and notebookLMC: The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program is a federal program designed to provide debt relief to support people in careers that serve their communities through public service. According to the PSLF website, local governments are considered a qualifying employer for PSLF. So, if the person is employed by a government employer, their employment qualifies regardless of the position held. The program works by forgiving certain types of student loans after an individual has made 120 qualifying payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer (such as a city).

Recent changes to the program will help borrowers in several ways, including a temporary opportunity to give borrowers credit for prior loan payments that would otherwise not count toward PSLF, and review of previously denied applications.

Because this program is potentially an important recruitment and retention tool, cities will likely want to publicize the program to job applicants. They will also want to encourage employees to check into the recent changes to see if they will benefit from them. Learn more at

Answered by Human Resources Director Laura Kushner:


Data Practices

Q: Our city would like to survey our residents about bringing music to the parks next summer. How would data collected in the survey be classified? Would we be required to release it if someone requests this data?

A lockable file cabinetLMC: It is likely all the data collected in the survey would be considered public data under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) (see Minnesota Advisory Opinion 02-006). You would probably want to be careful to collect only information about providing music. This means you do not want to collect resident names, emails, phone numbers, or addresses.

Phone numbers and similar types of data do not have a classification under the MGDPA and so are likely presumed public. Therefore, if included in the survey, the city will likely need to provide the information to a data requester. There is an exception classifying personal contact and online account information as private in the event the data is collected for notification purposes or as part of a subscription list (see Minnesota Statutes, section 13.356). However, it is unlikely collecting contact information as part of a survey qualifies as collection for notification purposes or as part of a subscription list.

When creating a survey, cities should consider what the purpose is of collecting contact information. If the city is collecting the data to ensure the survey responses are from city residents, the city could simply ask, “Are you a resident of [city name]?” If the city would like to collect emails to keep residents informed about music performances in the park, the city may provide a link in the survey to sign up for a subscription to receive such notices. For more information, visit

Answered by Research Attorney Christina Benson: