Injuries, Damages Caused by Defective Sidewalks: City Can Be Held Liable

Cities and towns are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of streets and sidewalks. The issue arises though, when such streets and sidewalks fall into disrepair and injure residents. Yet, no person shall have a cause of action against a public entity (such as a city) for damages caused by the condition of things within its care and custody unless such entity had actual or constructive notice of the particular vice or defect which caused the damage prior to the occurrence, and the public entity has had reasonable opportunity to remedy the defect and has failed to do so. Louisiana revised Statute 9:2800. To recover against a public entity such as a city for damages certain requirements have to be met. Thus, unless the legal requirements are all fulfilled a plaintiff may or may not be able to recover depending on the circumstances.

In a recent Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal decision, the court explores the requirements that a plaintiff must meet in order to recover for injuries sustained as a result of a defective thing in the city’s custody and care. The facts of the case involve a plaintiff who was walking her dog along a city sidewalk in Shreveport, Louisiana. While walking her dog she tripped over an elevated portion of the sidewalk and fell to the ground. The fall caused her substantial pain in her shoulder which led her to seek medical treatment the day after the incident at the emergency room of Willis Knighton Health Center. She eventually filed a petition for damages against the defendant city of Shreveport and was awarded $964.99 for medical expenses and $20,000 in general damages. The City appealed the decision on the basis that the requirements for a lawsuit against a city were not fulfilled.

To recover against a city for damages due to a defective thing, such as a sidewalk, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of evidence four things.
1. The thing that caused the plaintiff damages was in the defendant’s custody;
2. the thing was defective due to a condition that created an unreasonable risk of harm;
3. the defendant possessed actual or constructive notice of the defect, yet did not take corrective action within a reasonable period of time; and
4. the defect was a cause in fact of plaintiff’s harm.

The owner of the home that was located directly in front of the sidewalk testified that he did in fact contact the city in regards to the condition of the sidewalk. Specifically, the owner stated that he reported the crack to the City, which initially repaired the sidewalk. However, over time the sidewalk condition deteriorated until a one-inch crack appeared in the same area that was in disrepair originally. Again, the owner called the City to request a repair of this new crack in the sidewalk. This second phone call to the City took place nearly ten months prior to the plaintiff’s fall. Yet, the City did not take action until after the plaintiff’s incident. The City argued that the crack was apparent and that a reasonable person would have seen it and avoided it, thus, relieving them of liability. The owner of the house testified that noting obstructed a person’s view of the crack in the sidewalk, that the one-inch crack was obvious to him and that he had walked on that part of the sidewalk many times without tripping. A conflict arose in the testimony, when the City Superintendent of Streets and Drainage testified that the public complaint system named “C-CAR,” which collected residents’ reports of defective streets and sidewalks and not received a complaint until after the plaintiffs accident. Thus, the City argues that the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that the City received notice of the defective sidewalk because the owner of the property where the sidewalk was located could not specify exactly when he called the City and his testimony was directly contradicted by the City Superintendant.

The trial court heard both sets of conflicting testimony from both the owner of the property where the sidewalk was located and the City Superintendant of Streets and Drainage. The evidence presented showed that although the owner of the property was unable to recall the exact dates on which he called the City to report the sidewalk defect, he testified that he was beyond certain that he had reported the problem many months before the plaintiff’s fall and the subsequent repair of the sidewalk. Further, despite the lack of record of any complaint prior to the plaintiff’s fall, the court found that he could reasonably had notified the City, even if the C-CAR system did not have any record of such complaint. Thus, the City could not support their argument that they did not have actual or constructive knowledge of such defect in the sidewalk prior to the plaintiff’s fall, thus, they are liable for the plaintiffs damages.

In conclusion, if you have been injured as a result of a defective street or sidewalk you should obtain legal representation. It is with earned experience that individuals can be confident that their problems will be addressed and zealously argued for in order to effectively receive what they deserve.

If you have questions or are in need of guidance throughout this difficult ordeal, call Toll Free The Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005. The Berniard Law Firm, experienced and effective.