We had an interesting jury trial a few months ago. It was a trip and fall case against the City of Ogden, in northern Utah. Our client was an elderly gentleman who tripped on uneven concrete in a parking strip along a busy street in Ogden. The parking strip is the between the street and the sidewalk. Parking strips often have things in them like bike racks, trees, fire hydrants and water meter covers.
Our client parked his car along the side of the road after a long day of working as a construction flagger. He gathered his gear and started walking across the parking strip toward the sidewalk. The temp agency office that employed him was a short distance down from where he parked. He was required to return his gear to the office at the end of the day.
The concrete in the parking strip and sidewalk along this stretch had various spots that were uneven. Here is a photo of the stretch where he fell.
The photo below was taken to the right of where my client parked. The temp agency office he was headed to is the blue office that can be seen in the background. The spot that my client tripped over is the raised ledge around the water meter cover in the photo.
Witnesses testified that the stretch of concrete in the photo had been that way for years prior to our client’s fall. Other people had tripped on uneven concrete along that stretch. Some minor injuries had occurred. Various complaints had been made to the City.
The City followed a written standard that required concrete that was raised by more than 1/2 inch to be replaced. The ledge around the water meter was about 2 1/4 inches tall at his highest spot.
The City’s traffic engineer testified that the written standard did not apply to the ledge around the water meter because it was in a parking strip rather than the sidewalk. However, he conceded that it still needed to be replaced because someone could trip on it.
The City denied knowledge of the uneven concrete in that area. The City used a log to keep track of complaints. The log did not show any complaint prior to the incident about the area in question. However, the City’s witness testified that sometimes complaints don’t get recorded on the log. Also, the uneven stretch of concrete was only a block from City Hall.
The City also blamed my client for tripping. My client testified that he did not see the ledge. It was dark or dusk when the fall occurred. And, the ledge is under a large tree that shades the ledge. My client was just doing his job, which included carrying his gear back to the office.
The jury found that the City was 90% fault and my client was 10% at fault. It assessed damages at $195,000. My client hurt his hand and his knee. He ended up requiring surgery.
We were pleased with the result. It was a shame that it took a lawsuit and a significant injury to get the City’s attention. It seems like various complaints and other falls over the course of a few years should be enough. But that is one of the nice things about the civil justice system. It makes people and organizations pay attention to safety issues because it puts their money at risk. And as the saying goes, “money talks.”