There are four components in a basic negligence lawsuit: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Whether a duty exists in a given situation is usually a question of law to be resolved by the court.
Recently, a Massachusetts appeals court was called upon to resolve the issue of whether a landowner owed a duty to fix a defective public sidewalk or, alternatively, to warn those in the vicinity of the problem.
Facts of the Case
In the recent (unreported) case of Halbach v. Normandy Real Estate Partners, the plaintiff was a man who tripped and fell on a public sidewalk adjacent to a commercial building owned, operated, and maintained by the defendants. The plaintiff allegedly suffered serious injuries as a result of his fall.
The plaintiff (joined by his wife) filed a lawsuit against the defendants, asserting that they had breached their duty to either repair the uneven pavement in the sidewalk or warn pedestrians and the city of the hazard.
The trial court judge granted summary judgment to the defendants, agreeing with them that no such duty existed. The plaintiffs appealed.
Holding of the Massachusetts Appeals Court
The court affirmed the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to the defendants. According to the court, there were no issues of fact on appeal but only issues of law. The plaintiffs argued that the defendants owed them a duty to either repair the defective condition or warn of hazards along the public sidewalk in front of their building and that this duty stemmed from the defendants’ power to exercise control over the sidewalk. However, the plaintiffs did not cite any Massachusetts authority imposing an affirmative duty on landowners to inspect public sidewalks or to cure or report any issues found therein.
While acknowledging that a duty of care can arise from a right to control land, the court ultimately found that no duty existed here because, first, there was no evidence that the defendants actually had a legal right to control the sidewalk (although they did perform a subsequent remedial measure that was not opposed by the city), and, second, the city was statutorily tasked with the control of both the maintenance and the repair of the sidewalk.
Since the defendants did not create or contribute to the condition of the sidewalk upon which the male plaintiff fell, they did not owe a duty to repair the condition or to warn the plaintiff of the danger.
To Get Advice from an Knowledgeable Cape Cod Injury Attorney
Although the plaintiffs were unable to recover compensation against the landowners under the facts of the case discussed herein, there are many circumstances in which a duty does exist and in which a successful negligence claim may be brought against a negligent property owner or business operator. If you have been hurt, the experienced Cape Cod slip-and-fall accident attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help you determine whether you may have a case. Call us at (888) 262-6664 to schedule an appointment to discuss your case in our Hyannis or Plymouth offices.
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