DC Court of Appeals Dismisses Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Suit Because the Defect in the Pavement Was “De Minimis”

Due to a city’s relationship with its citizens, and the fact that the city’s taxpayers pay for the sidewalks and roads, cities have a duty to ensure that they are maintained in a reasonably safe manner. Thus, when a person falls while walking on the sidewalk, and that fall was due to a defect in the pavement (such as a hole in the sidewalk or missing bricks), that person may seek recovery for their injuries from the municipality in which the injury occurred.

However, courts have routinely held that when a defect in pavement is so small that the city could have no way of knowing that there was a problem, and thus having no way to fix it, the city cannot be held liable. That is exactly what happened in a recent case in front of the DC Court of Appeals.

Briscoe v. District of Columbia

In the recent case, Briscoe v. District of Columbia, the plaintiff tripped and fell on the sidewalk outside her home. Before trial, the District of Columbia moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that the crack in the pavement was so small that they could have had no way of knowing it even existed. The trial court viewed pictures of the defect and agreed, dismissing the suit against the District of Columbia.

On the plaintiff’s appeal, the DC Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court, noting that “although the District of Columbia has a duty to maintain its streets in a reasonably safe condition … it is not an insurer of safety of those who utilize its streets and sidewalks.” The Court continued, “It is a matter of common knowledge that it is impossible to maintain a sidewalk in a perfect condition. Minor defects are bound to exist. A municipality cannot be expected to maintain the surface of its sidewalks free from all inequalities and from every possible obstruction to travel.”

Finally, the court came to the conclusion that the defect in the pavement was so small—“de minimis”—that Disctrict could not fairly be held responsible for it. Indeed, the court of appeals echoed the trial court’s sentiment that these types of defects are found all over the city.

The Case’s Effect on Personal Injury Litigants in Washington DC

This case is obviously not a helpful case to Washington DC accident victims. It further extends the definition of what a de minimis defect is. As the definition of de minimis grows, the number of cases that it excludes from recovery grows as well. This makes it all that much more important to ensure that you obtain an experienced and thorough Washington DC personal injury attorney if you are involved in any slip-and-fall-case.

Have You Been Injured in a Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you have slipped and fallen on a public sidewalk or road, and you believe that it was due to improper maintenance, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the facts of the case, a skilled slip-and-fall attorney may be able to convince the court that the defect was the cause of your accident, and that the city should be responsible. To find out more about slip-and-fall law in Washington DC, contact the Washington DC personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen by calling 410-456-3600, or click here to contact the firm online.

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