Trivial Sidewalk Defect Is A Question For The Jury (PA)

In Shaw v. Thomas Jefferson University and City of Philadelphia, the plaintiff fell on a sidewalk at Thomas Jefferson University.  Shaw filed a complaint against the University and the City of Philadelphia alleging that there was an irregularity and/or unsafe condition in the sidewalk that caused her to fall and injure herself.  During her deposition, Shaw testified that her view of the sidewalk was unobstructed and that she was not looking down at the time of her fall.  She further testified that following her fall she visited the site of the accident to measure the sidewalk and noted that there was a 2 to 2½ inch elevation change from one segment of the sidewalk to the next.

The University and the City both filed motions for summary judgment claiming they were not negligent because, among other things, the sidewalk defect was trivial.  The trial court granted both motions and dismissed all claims against both defendants.  On appeal, Shaw argued that the trial court erred by determining that the defect in the sidewalk was trivial and not a question for the jury.  The appellate court noted that it was well-settled that a sidewalk defect may be so trivial that a court must hold, as a matter of law, that the property owner was not negligent in allowing it to exist; however, it also noted that there was no bright-line rule that can be used to determine “the depth of size of a sidewalk depression necessary to convict an owner of premises of negligence in permitting its continued existence.”  As such, the court agreed with Shaw that summary judgment should not have been granted because no bright-line rule exists for a court to use in determining whether a sidewalk defect is trivial.  The court further held that this was a question that should have been submitted to a jury.

Special thanks to Colleen Hayes for her contributions to this post.  For more information, please contact Nicole Y. Brown at nbrown@wcmlaw.com.