Maryland Court Finds City Is Not Liable for Injuries Resulting from Common Sidewalk Defect

Maryland trip and fall accidents can cause severe injuries, particularly for elderly individuals.  In some instances, an injured person may be able to recover their damages in a personal injury suit.  In a January 3, 2020 negligence case, the plaintiff brought suit against the City of Baltimore after falling on a public sidewalk.  After the lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, the matter was appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

The plaintiff in the case was injured as she was walking along a sidewalk and tripped and fell on an elevated portion of the sidewalk.  The plaintiff suffered serious personal injuries to her face and mouth as a result of the fall and incurred over $15,000 in medical expenses, including orthodontic surgery to repair damage to her teeth.  She was 80 years old at the time of the injury.

In her suit, the plaintiff alleged that the City negligently attempted to repair the sidewalk, and as a result, the sidewalk was uneven.  The City argued that the sidewalk defect was so slight, that it was non-actionable under the triviality doctrine.  The City also argued that the plaintiff failed to produce evidence that it had notice of the defect before the plaintiff’s accident.

In Maryland, a municipality may be liable for injuries caused by dangerous obstructions or depressions in sidewalks if the municipality had actual notice of the condition, or if the conditions had existed long enough to give constructive notice.  When considering a municipality’s liability for negligence, however, Maryland courts have applied the doctrine of triviality in cases where the alleged sidewalk defects are slight, minor, or inconsequential, holding that such a condition is not actionable. The doctrine recognizes the limit to liability for sidewalk conditions, and the burden to taxpayers and property owners that would result in requiring a perfectly level and even surface on every sidewalk.

The plaintiff argued that the sidewalk at issue in the case was raised approximately one and a half to two inches, creating a dangerous condition.  The appeals court disagreed, concluding that the uneven surface defect was a common one found on many sidewalks, and that the City could not be reasonably expected to know of every defect on the street.  The court pointed out that the plaintiff had traveled across the same sidewalk a least a dozen times prior to the incident and did not notice any defect.  As a result, the appeals court ultimately held that the slight elevation in the sidewalk was a trivial defect, and was not inherently dangerous.  The court went on to affirm summary judgment in favor of the City.

If you suffered injuries due to the negligence of another, you may have legal recourse against the person responsible.  At Foran & Foran, our Maryland accident attorneys help plaintiffs pursue damages through premises liability claims and other personal injury actions.  Request a free consultation to discuss your injury with an experienced lawyer by calling Foran & Foran  at (301) 441-2022 or submitting our contact form online.