Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Summary Judgment Granted in Monroe County Trip and Fall Case

In the case of Fuller v. YMCA of Monroe County, No. 2239-Civil-2011 (C.P. Monroe March 28, 2012 Harlacher-Sibum, J.), Judge Jennifer Harlacher-Sibum of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas granted the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendant, Borough of Stroudsburg, in a slip and fall accident case.

By way of background, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant, Borough of Stroudsburg, was negligent in planting a tree in front of a Dunkin Donuts store that, during its growth, caused the section of the sidewalk to increase in height, which increase in the height of the sidewalk caused the Plaintiff to fall.

In her Opinion, Judge Harlacher Sibum noted that the Dunkin Donuts store conceded that it was the party in possession and control of the subject property at the time of the incident.

The Court also reviewed the Plaintiff’s deposition testimony and written discovery responses in which the Plaintiff essentially admitted that she was unaware as to how long the allegedly dangerous condition existed. In her responses, the Plaintiff also admitted that the “condition is open and obvious” in an apparent effort to show that the Defendant should have been aware of the condition of the sidewalk.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, the Defendant, Borough of Stroudsburg, argued that the Plaintiff failed to establish that that Defendant was in possession and control of the open and obvious condition of the sidewalk.

Recognizing that the mere fact that a fall occurred does not give rise to an inference of negligence, the Court stated that the Plaintiff had the burden of proving negligence on the part of each Defendant named in the suit.

In this matter, the Court accepted the Defendant, Borough of Stroudsburg’s argument that it was not in possession or control of the property where the injury occurred and that the repair and maintenance of the sidewalk, including the maintenance of a tree planted by the Defendant were the responsibility of another entity based upon a borough ordinance. As noted, the Opinion further confirmed that the Co-Defendant owner of the Dunkin Donuts store conceded that they were in control of the property at the time of the incident.

The Court ruled that, since the Borough ordinance specifically shifted the duties of the maintenance of the sidewalk to the property owner, the Defendant, Borough of Stroudsburg, was not under any obligation to the Plaintiff. Accordingly, since there was no duty owed by the Defendant to the Plaintiff, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant, Borough of Stroudsburg. The Court further indicated that, even though the borough may have planted the tree in the vicinity of the sidewalk, under the applicable local ordinance it was still the duty of the property owner to maintain the sidewalk.

Anyone desiring a copy of this decision in the case of Fuller v. YMCA of Monroe County may click this link.

I send thanks to attorney Stephen H. Franko, IV of the Scranton office of Cipriani & Werner for bringing this case to my attention.

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