Lawsuit a Trivial Pursuit
by Ron Davis
“Trivial” and “speculative” are terms a judge applied to the negligence charges of a woman who was injured while leaving a New York shopping center.
The injury occurred as the woman apparently either misjudged or did not see a slope of a sidewalk just outside a tenant store. That area of sidewalk contained a yellow-painted asphalt ramp that allowed customers to drive to the curb to more easily load merchandise into their vehicles. As she crossed the sidewalk to get to her car, she stepped on the ramp, lost her balance, and fell.
She later explained that at the time, her attention was focused on watching for cars in the roadway. She added that when stepping on the ramp, she discovered that “there was no sidewalk there.” And in her resulting lawsuit, she claimed that the slope of the sidewalk was a dangerous or defective condition.
At trial, an engineer testifying on her behalf pointed out that New York state law requires a sidewalk slope to be no more .09 degrees. Measurements showed that the slope may have exceeded that standard. But the engineer did not indicate whether that law was in effect when the shopping center was constructed or renovated.
On that basis, a New York state court ruled in favor of the shopping center’s owners, pointing out that even if a deviation in such a slope was a defect, “a property owner may not be held liable in damages for trivial defects on a walkway, not constituting a trap or nuisance, as a consequence of which a pedestrian might merely stumble…or trip.”
The injured woman appealed.
A New York state appellate court agreed with the lower court, explaining, “A [sidewalk slope] deviation of .09 degrees is too trivial to be subject to legal action, especially in light of the fact that the accident took place in full daylight, in an area with which the injured woman admitted she was familiar, and which was painted yellow in order to attract a prudent observer’s attention. Moreover, even if the height differential…between the curb and the bottom of the ramp exceeded applicable standards, there is no evidence as to exactly where along the border between the sidewalk and the ramp the injured woman fell. Accordingly, a finding that this disparity caused her accident would be purely speculative.” (Ryan v. KRT Property Holdings, LLC, 2007 WL 3407178 [N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.])
Decision: December 2007
Published: January 2008