Law review: Trip and fall on sidewalk; do you sue?
Trips and falls are the bread and butter for some law firms. Our office handles plenty, but I wouldn’t call it our bread and butter or even our bread.
LAWSUIT OVER UNEVEN SIDEWALK
Charles Huckey sued the City of Temecula for injures he suffered from tripping and falling on what he described as a defective sidewalk. He alleged the defect was “a dangerous condition of public property” under Government Code section 830.
The sidewalk was vertically uneven between two concrete panels. The height differential was 9/16 of an inch on one side of the panel and one and 7/32 inches on the other side of the concrete panel. If someone is walking in the middle of the sidewalk, the height differential would be whatever the difference is between those two heights, which I am incapable of calculating.
Temecula defended claiming it was unaware of the allegedly defective sidewalk which was near the northeast corner of Rancho California Road and Meadows Parkway.
The big topic in this case was Temecula’s argument that the sidewalk defect was “trivial,” and in any event the uneven sidewalk was caused by a tree root from a tree on adjacent private property.
TIP OF THE DAY
This my friends is your tip of the day. If you have a sidewalk in front of your property that is dangerous or warped or uneven, do something about it, especially if the unevenness may be caused by a tree on your property. Fortunately, the adjacent property owner in our case did not have to make that argument due to the court’s decision.
The plaintiff hired experts who argued the height differential was dangerous and was more than allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which indeed it was. ADA guidelines allow height differentials of no more than 1/2 inch.
‘TRIVIAL OR INSIGNIFICANT’ DEFENSE
As you loyal readers know, public entities may be held liable because of dangerous conditions on their property, which under the Government Code must be “a substantial (as distinguished from a minor, trivial, insignificant) risk of injury.”
And there you have it, the trivial defect doctrine, in this case Temecula’s main line of defense.
The court discussed experts’ opinions on what is the norm, but ultimately concluded: “Sidewalk elevations ranging from 3/4 of an inch to 1/2 inch have generally been held trivial as a matter of law.”
This Fourth District California Court of Appeal determined that the Temecula sidewalk was no more than 1 inch higher than the adjoining piece of concrete. It was in plain sight and there were no broken concrete pieces or ragged edges or anything else that was unusual that would have contributed to Temecula’s liability.
The court ruled that a 1/2 inch or higher differential may pose a trip hazard, but a one inch differential is minor, trivial and not a significant risk of injury. Judgment for Temecula.
You may recall a case we wrote about in 2011 where the Court concluded the same thing with a sidewalk differential between 3/4 and 7/8 of an inch.
Of course, if this were Mexico or Buenos Aires, a sidewalk differential of a foot or more would be trivial given many of their sidewalks.
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, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.