Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trivial Defect Doctrine Applied in Lycoming County Trip and Fall Case to Deny MSJ

In the case of Walker v. Community Action Realty, Inc., No. 13-00,418 (C.P. Lycoming Co. Oct. 13, 2014 Gray, J.), Judge Richard A. Gray of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas recently denied a Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a slip and fall case based upon a defense allegation that the Plaintiff failed to identify the specific defect that caused her to fall and because the alleged defect was so trivial that allowing it to exist was not negligent as a matter of law.  

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff stumbled, trip, and fell down stairs onto a sidewalk outside a building, allegedly sustaining injuries.   At her deposition, the Plaintiff testified that her foot came into contact with a raised portion of the pavement on the porch at the top of the stairs, causing her to trip and fall down the stairs.  

It was undisputed that there was a raised area of the porch surface located a few inches from the front edge of the top step between the doormat and the front step.   An investigative report noted that the irregularity was only about 1/8th of an inch high.  However, the raised area of the porch surface was located directly in the middle of the steps, which was noted to be a busy, heavily traversed point of primary access into and out of the public building.  

After reviewing the law pertaining to trivial defects in premises liability cases, the court denied the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment after noting that no definite or mathematical rule can be laid down as to the depth or size of a sidewalk defect to determine whether the defect was trivial as a matter of law.  

Judge Richard Gray
Lycoming County
Applying the trivial defect doctrine to the facts before him, Judge Gray reiterated that the defect in question, the existence of which was admitted by the defense, was in the direct line of travel for persons entering and exiting the building.  The court also emphasized that the irregularity in the area where the Plaintiff fell was located right in the middle of where the public would be expected to step before descending the steps out of a busy, heavily traversed public building.  

Judge Gray held that the question of whether or not allowing the defect in question to exist at that location constituted negligence, was a question that should be decided by a jury. 

Judge Gray further found that the Plaintiff’s testimony was sufficient to also raise a question of fact for the jury to determine whether or not the cause of her fall was indeed the defect in question.  

For these reasons, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was denied.  

Anyone desiring a copy of this Lycoming County decision in the case of Walker v. Community Action Realty, Inc. may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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