Government agencies owe a duty to ensure public walkways and thoroughfares are correctly designed and adequately maintained to minimize the risk of danger to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. When a dangerous condition results in an unreasonable risk of injury to members of the public, the agency may be liable to pay damages resulting from that injury.
An expose by the Sun Sentinel last year revealed Fort Lauderdale alone has 106 miles of bad sidewalk – enough to stretch from here all the way to Fort Pierce. On top of that, there are more than 850 miles of road throughout the city that really need sidewalks, but don’t have them. As the city strives to improve accessibility for all road users, this is a major challenge.
But even cities that are working toward improvements can’t escape liability if they are aware of a certain problem and fail to fix it or warn the public about it. Take for example the recent case of City of Beech Grove v. Beloat, a trip-and-fall injury lawsuit weighed by the Indiana Supreme Court.
According to court records, plaintiff was walking from her home to the library one afternoon in June 2012. She walked up Main Street and then started crossing at an intersection. As she was crossing, she stepped slightly outside of the crosswalk to avoid a pickup truck that had stopped only a few feet shy of the crosswalk. Suddenly, she heard a “snap!” and felt herself falling to the ground. She looked down to see her foot was wedged into a hole in the ground. She was stuck, and remained in the street until two others assisted her to a nearby curb. One of those individuals took her to a nearby hospital. It was there she discovered that she’d suffered a broken leg.
Plaintiff filed a complaint against the city for this trip-and-fall pedestrian accident, alleging negligent maintenance of the street and seeking coverage of her medical bills and compensation for pain and suffering.
The city responded with a denial of liability under the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA). Defendant city soon moved for summary judgment, arguing:
- Plaintiff had not established the cause of her injury;
- City was immune from liability because maintenance of the road was a discretionary function;
- Plaintiff was contributorily negligent for stepping outside the crosswalk and failing to avoid an open and obvious hole.
Trial court denied the motion. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding city was entitled to discretionary function immunity. This was a split decision, and plaintiff appealed to the state supreme court.
The supreme court, however, decided to affirm the trial court’s denial of summary judgment, finding the city was not entitled to it as a matter of law. Specifically, the city failed to meet its burden showing that the act of repairing that hole in the ground (or failure to do so) was a decision that was made consciously by balancing risk vs. benefit.
Here in Fort Lauderdale, the city manager has proposed spending $2.1 million on sidewalk repair over the next year, though that mostly focuses on high-traffic areas downtown. It would take an estimated $16 million to repair all the areas that require fixing.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
City of Beech Grove v. Beloat, April 5, 2016, Indiana Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Pedestrian Accident Deaths a Growing Problem Nationally, March 23, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Pedestrian Accident Lawyer Blog