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Slip, Trip and Fall Case Study
Case Description/Summary: While walking on the sidewalk leading up to the front door of a local thrift shop, the plaintiff alleged that she stepped onto an unevenly patched spot on the driveway curb cutout and fell. Her fall caused multiple injuries to herself. Plaintiff’s expert wrote that the location of the trip and fall incident did not comply with “egress path of travel” criteria; that the hazard had not been previously abated in accordance with “standard facility management practices”; and that the property owner should have known of and repaired the defective surface prior to the plaintiff’s incident. Plaintiff’s expert argued that even though the plaintiff was aware of the uneven/deteriorated nature of the pavement prior to stepping on it, she could not be expected to watch where she was walking as it was “normal pedestrian behavior” to not do so. Plaintiff sued the property owner and property lessee.
Expert Analysis: A site survey was conducted approximately three years after the incident to gather evidence. Still photos and videography were performed as well as slope and elevation differential measurements. The evidence showed that the incident driveway/curb cut surface did indeed have one spot with an elevation differential of around one inch; and that this spot was adjacent to several areas that had been previously patched. The survey revealed that adjacent to the alleged fall location was a relatively new handicapped curb cut at the street corner, and that the path of travel from this corner point to the thrift shop entrance was completely free of obstacles and hazardous pathway surface conditions. Additionally, the presence of debris and rocks up to 2.5 inches in diameter were present in the road pathway the plaintiff used to travel from her parked car to the incident driveway/curb cut location; which necessitated pedestrian safety diligence when traversing there. The plaintiff alleged that she noticed the height difference at the incident spot, but chose to step onto it regardless, while simultaneously diverting her eyes from her pathway to the store front. Municipality ordinances were researched and found to allow property owners a grace period of 60 days to enable the owners to fix a problem as allegedly encountered by the plaintiff.
It was determined during depositions that the thrift shop tenants had used the driveway/curb cut with their delivery truck within a short period just prior to the alleged incident, but that no one had noticed any pathway damage at the incident location prior to the incident. It was noted that the truck’s weight applied onto the incident surface could have caused the change in surface elevation seen. It was found that the property owner and manager had no prior notice of any dangerous conditions at the incident location. It was pointed out that pedestrians are free to choose their own pathways and because of that they have a “reasonable care” obligation to be alert for hazards to their own safety as they walk; therefore the plaintiff contributed to the cause of her own incident. Plaintiff’s expert assertions of:
1) a violation of “egress path of travel” criteria was refuted, as this criteria was shown to apply only to indoor locations;
2) failure to comply with “standard facility management practices” was refuted as it was shown that it had no foundation in law; and
3) that alleged hazardous conditions should have been repaired prior to the alleged plaintiff incident was refuted because the municipality allowed a 60 day grace period.
Result: The plaintiff accepted a settlement offer shortly after the issuance of this report.
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