Limitations to Recovery in Sidewalk Defect Slip & Fall Cases

Under Pennsylvania law, property owners are to employ reasonable care in keeping sidewalks on their property free of hazardous and defective conditions. However, as recently reiterated in the case of Alston v. Commonwealth, a Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court case, (Phila. Co. Dec. 13, 2010; Levin J.) there are limits to the nature of the size of the defect and surrounding circumstances which would impute liability.

In this case it was determined that the defect in the sidewalk that the Plaintiff, Kira Alston, tripped, fell and was seriously injured on was 5/8". The Court ruled that this was a trivial defect as a matter of law in this matter. Judge Levin in his opinion states “it is simply unreasonable and utterly unrealistic to hold municipalities and property owners to a standard of care maintaining pavement in pristine condition”. Further, within the opinion, Judge Levin pointed out that (1) there were numerous Appellate decisions in the Commonwealth, finding deviations greater in size than the 5/8" deviation in this case as a matter of law, not providing any basis for liability against the property owner. Further (2) that in this case one of the liability experts for the City of Philadelphia which was proceeding on a cross-claim, conceded at trial that there were thousands of city sidewalks with elevations levels of less than one inch.

Given the circumstances of this matter Judge Levin entered a compulsory non-suit at the end of Plaintiff’s case in favor of the property owner.

Therefore, though a property owner bears a reasonable standard of care to keep a sidewalk in a reasonably safe condition under the circumstances, if the defect to the sidewalk is determined to be trivial, as a matter of law, the lawsuit can be dismissed on those grounds regardless of the nature and extent of injuries to the Plaintiff.