Winter Home Fire Prevention

Heating fires are one of the leading causes of home fires.As frigid temperatures sweep across the country, injuries and deaths are on the rise from a surprising source—fire. In fact, 50 percent of all home heating fires are reported during the months of December, January and February.

The number of home fires increases during cold snaps because people will use whatever sources they have available to get and stay warm. Unfortunately, some heat sources may not be used properly, are not intended for home heating, or may be in need of repair.

Second only to cooking fires, heating fires are one of the leading causes of home fires. Follow these tips to keep your family safe this winter:

  • Remember the 3-Feet Rule. Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  • Never leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Use space heaters carefully. If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Never use an extension cord for electric heaters.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home. This can be a fire hazard as well as a source of toxic fumes.
  • Keep the fire in your fireplace. Use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  • Replace your smoke alarms every 10 years. Smoke alarms wear out. If you can’t remember when you last replaced them, buy new alarms that are interconnected if possible. Install them using manufacturer’s instructions or hire an electrician for alarms that are hard-wired into your home’s electrical system.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm. Make sure it is marked with the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) safety listing. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for placement in your home.
  • Have working fire extinguisher. The National Fire Protection Association recommends an extinguisher for each floor. Select a multi-purpose extinguisher that is large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy as to be difficult to handle.

Remember, many communities offer free smoke detectors and installation for vulnerable portions of the population. For more information, contact your local Red Cross chapter or neighborhood fire department.

Happy 80th Birthday to Sister Corita!

A few months ago, we received a call from Captain Keith Sulzer of the Bureau of Community Policing in Cleveland. He needed our help with a top-secret mission: a surprise party for Sister Corita’s 80th birthday.

Cleveland’s Mother Theresa

For those of you who don’t know her, Sister Corita Ambro is a truly amazing human being. A Catholic nun, Sister Corita has been serving meals to hungry Cleveland families at the St. Augustine Hunger Center for forty-four years. She’s earned a few nicknames during her decades of service. Some call her “The Angel of Tremont,” to Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman, she’s “Cleveland’s Mother Theresa,” but, to David Elk, “She’s just a sweetheart.”

Captain Keith Sulzer, Arthur Elk, Sister Corita Ambro and David Elk
Captain Keith Sulzer, Arthur Elk, Sister Corita Ambro and David Elk

“Sister Corita has devoted her entire life to serving the needy – and not just with food,” explains David Elk, Senior Partner at Elk & Elk. “The St. Augustine Hunger Center also helps people find shelter and assists with utilities.”

Her devotion has inspired countless others. For our part, Elk & Elk has been donating food to the St. Augustine Hunger Center for thirteen years. When asked how he and his brother Art came to be associated with the Center, David explained, “We heard they were in need of food for Thanksgiving – helping the homeless and the disabled – and we wanted to participate.”

Mission Accomplished

Secrets can be hard to keep, but judging by the look on Sister Corita’s face, the party was indeed a surprise. The festivities began with procession into St. Augustine, led by Sgt. Randy Daley on bagpipes—dressed in full Scottish regalia. Celebrating with our favorite octogenarian were Cleveland City Councilmembers Joe Cimperman and Brian Cummins, radio personality Mark “Munch” Bishop of ESPN Cleveland, members of the Cleveland Police Department, and the Guardian Angels. The crowd was treated to entertainment was by the impeccable “Cat-o’-Tonics,” a delightful a Cappella ensemble made up of members of the St. Ignatius High School Choral Program.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASister Corita received gifts, official proclamations and a rather unusual plaque—with a toilet on it. You see, she was this year’s recipient of the Cleveland Police Department’s “Johnny on the Spot Award.” Usually reserved for police officers, the annual prize is bestowed on individuals who have a knack for being in the right spot at the right time. Although unconventional, we think the accolade suits the Sister to a tee.

From all of us at Elk & Elk, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Sister Corita!

Check out the full photo album on our Facebook page!

In Ohio, Sled at Your Own Risk

Some cities are closing sledding hills for fear of litigation.

Across the country, frustrated kids are having a hard time finding a place to sled because many cities are closing sledding hills for fear of litigation. In Ohio, however, public sledding areas remain open – because of laws that protect property owners who host “recreational users.”

While this news will undoubtedly delight kids of all ages, parents should be cautious. Before you send your child careening down a snowy hill on a sled, saucer, or tube, know that it may be your responsibility, not that of the property owner, to check for rocks, trees, or other hazards.

Premises Liability

At Elk & Elk, we handle all types of premises liability claims. Wet floors, loose handrails, poorly lit stairways… a myriad of problems can lead to serious injury or death. In many cases, if there is a hazard or defect on someone’s property, the owner can be held liable for injuries arising from that defect if they knew, or reasonably should have known, about the danger it posed.

Obviously, there are exceptions. Once such exception specifically involves those who sled in public places.

Pauley v. Circleville

In 2007, Jeremy Pauley decided to sled down a snow-covered mound of dirt at Barthelmas Park in Circleville, Ohio. Unfortunately, lurking beneath the snow – just yards ahead of him – was a railroad tie. Sadly, as Jeremy sledded down the hill, he violently struck the obstacle, and, as a result, he was paralyzed from the neck down. Subsequently, Jeremy and his mother filed a complaint alleging that the city acted negligently, recklessly, and wantonly in dumping the debris in the park, which resulted in a physical defect that caused Jeremy’s injuries. In 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the City of Circleville was immune from liability in the disastrous sledding accident, because of the recreational-user immunity law.

The recreational-user law states: No landowner: 1) Owes any duty to a recreational user to keep the premises safe for entry or use; 2) Extends any assurance to a recreational user, through the act of giving permission, that the premises are safe for entry or use; 3) Assumes responsibility for or incurs liability for any injury caused by any act of a recreational user.

In the majority opinion, the justices concluded that finding Circleville liable for Jeremy’s injuries would conflict with the purpose of the recreational-user law, which is to encourage owners of premises suitable for recreational pursuits to open their land to public use without fear of liability. Removing the protection of immunity, they opined, would undoubtedly cause property owners to restrict recreational use of their properties, or close them entirely, from fear of liability. 

Sled-riders Beware

While we would never advocate for eliminating sled riding from our kids’ winter activities, in light of this legal decision, we strongly urge parents to be diligent when selecting a sledding site. According to ABC News,

A study by Columbus, Ohio-based Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that between 1997 and 2007, more than 20,000 children each year were treated at emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries.

It is important to note the recreational-user law is applicable only to free public areas. If there is an admission charge, the statute does not apply. With that in mind, tubing or sledding at places that charge admission, such as ski resorts, may provide some added assurances.

We wish you and your family safe and happy sledding this winter.



Liability Concerns Prompt Some Cities to Limit Sledding” by Scott McFetridge, ABC News/Associated Press, January 4, 2015.

Pauley v. Circleville, 137 Ohio St.3d 212, 2013-Ohio-4541.