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Court considerations of a dangerous condition in Premises Liability

August 11, 2022 Personal injury

By Eric Ganci

Nunez v. City of Redondo Beach, filed 7/27/22.

Tripping or slipping and falling can be one of the most devastating events to happen to you. The force from the height and speed of the fall, and how you fall, can seriously injure you. Especially if you are of an age or body type where your body is not able to recover from such a traumatic fall.

As lawyers, another consideration is whether another party or person can be liable for creating or allowing a condition to remain that is dangerous—the one on which you slipped or tripped.

The Law in California (and probably many other places) has considerations and prior case decisions to help understand whether someone else is liable for this dangerous condition. And this 7/27/22 decision Nunez v. City of Redondo Beach (2022), 2022 WL 2965453 gives a roadmap of considerations.

The legal term of art is whether the dangerous condition is “trivial.” California law says “a property owner is not liable for damages caused by a minor, trivial, or insignificant defect” on its property.” “This principle, referred to as the ‘trivial defect doctrine’ or the ‘trivial defect defense,’ is not an affirmative defense, but “an aspect of duty that a plaintiff must plead and prove.” “That is so because a property owner’s duty of care ‘does not require the repair of minor or trivial defects.’”

Nunez is a sidewalk case, where Plaintiff fell on an uneven sidewalk. “In the sidewalk-walkway context, ‘[t]he decision whether the defect is dangerous as a matter of law does not rest solely on the size of the crack in the walkway, since a tape measure alone cannot be used to determine whether the defect was trivial.’”

Ok, so it’s not black and white. And since it’s not so clear-cut, the Court gives considerations:

The considerations Nunez gives:

A “court should decide whether a defect may be dangerous only after considering all of the circumstances surrounding the accident that might make the defect more dangerous than its size alone would suggest. Aside from the size of the defect, the court should consider whether the walkway had any broken pieces or jagged edges and other conditions of the walkway surrounding the defect, such as whether there was debris, grease or water concealing the defect, as well as whether the accident occurred at night in an unlighted area or some other condition obstructed a pedestrian’s view of the defect.” “‘[T]he plaintiff’s knowledge of the area, … the weather at the time of the accident, and whether the defect has caused any other accidents,’ are also factors courts have considered.”

The process for the Court:

“First, we review evidence of the ‘type and size of the defect.’ If that analysis reveals a trivial defect, we then consider ‘evidence of any additional factors [bearing on whether the defect presented a substantial risk of injury]. If these additional factors do not indicate the defect was sufficiently dangerous to a reasonably careful person,’ then we will ‘deem the defect trivial as a matter of law.’”

What happened in Nunez?

Plaintiff tripped on a City sidewalk. City had a policy “that sidewalk height differentials between a half-inch and one-and-a-half inches should be repaired….” Plaintiff argued since City had this policy, it shows liability.

The Court disagreed and held the height differential here was “trivial.” Thus, the Trial Court granted an MSJ in favor of City, and this Court upheld that decision.