Law Review: Trip and fall in alley different than trip and fall on sidewalk?

Our case today, Martinez v. City of Beverly Hills, involves a trip and fall in an alleyway in downtown Beverly Hills. The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal focused on whether the standards of liability are different for alleys than they are for sidewalks.


Nieves Martinez, was walking through an alleyway behind the law firm where she worked wearing soft-bottomed flip-flops and carrying a paper plate piled with pastries. The front edge of her flip-flop hit the edge of a swale that was a divot of approximately 1.75 inches deep.

The alley, paved with asphalt, had a drainage swale made of concrete running down its center. The asphalt had worn away and was almost two inches below the edge of the concrete. That is where Martinez tripped and badly injured herself. She sued. The matter ultimately made it to the court of appeal.


A public entity like Beverly Hills is liable for injuries caused by a “dangerous condition” on public property if it either creates that condition itself or is otherwise negligent because it had actual or constructive notice of the condition but did not repair it.

Beverly Hills is charged with constructive notice of the divot if it was there for a period of time before the incident and it was sufficiently obvious that the City should have discovered and repaired it. Failure to do so would be negligence.


We have written about several trip and falls on sidewalks and driveways where a municipality is essentially responsible to discover dangerous conditions. At least obvious defects.

Beverly Hills’ employees had been in the alley in recent months fixing potholes but none of the workers noticed the divot where the asphalt connected with the concrete drainage swale. There was no actual notice.

The court of appeal ultimately concluded the divot was not a defect that was “of such an obvious nature that Beverly Hills … should have discovered the condition and its dangerous character.” The court went on writing, “to hold otherwise is to mandate that municipalities comb their alleyways for defects with the same precision as they do their sidewalks.”

The court Opinion ended with this sentence: “Again, alleys are different.”

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at or


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