Engineering expert witness advises on postal worker’s trip and fall on homeowner’s damaged sidewalk

Kristin Casler

Written by
— Updated on October 13, 2017

Engineering expert witness sidewalkAn engineering expert witness advises on a case involving a mail carrier who tripped and fell on the public sidewalk in front of defendants’ two-family home. She broke her ankle and injured her foot.

Plaintiff sued the property owners alleging that their negligence in maintaining the sidewalk and in failing to warn pedestrians of the hazard caused her accident and injuries. The sidewalk was cracked, and parts of it had buckled up to 3/4 inches above the rest of the slab sections. The curb alongside the street was also broken and crumbled in that area.

Because a residential property owner in this state is generally immune from liability for accidents resulting from naturally-caused conditions of public sidewalks abutting the property, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the owners or a specified prior owner of the property did something affirmatively to cause a dangerous condition of the sidewalk.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. What caused the sidewalk to crack and buckle?
  • 2. Were the defendants negligent?

Expert Witness Response

The surrounding walking surfaces eluded the plaintiff’s perceptive view because her field of view was transfixed on the approaching general area. The 3/4 inch protruding slab edge restricted the natural movement of the plaintiff’s foot and created an upset in the plaintiff’s natural stride. She tripped, stumbled, and fell.

I reviewed the record of the case, investigated the property and took photographs 30 months after the accident. The cracks in the sidewalk were caused by three contributing factors:

1. Heavy construction vehicles driven over the sidewalk during the prior owners’ construction of an addition more than 20 years before the fall. The remodeling and addition necessitated the use of a backhoe. A backhoe and other large construction vehicles must have traversed the curb and sidewalk onto the grassy area on that side of the home in order to gain access to the work site. This is evidenced by the fact that this was the shortest route to the construction site, the sidewalk cracks line up with curb cracks and the construction site, and there are no other sidewalk or curb cracks in front of defendants’ property.

2. Commercial vehicles driven over the sidewalk during the current owners’ replacement of the retaining wall. The stone blocks that replaced the railroad ties were likely delivered by a commercial vehicle and kept in a staging area on the grassy right side of the property. A commercial vehicle would have driven over the sidewalk and curb to deliver the stones to that grassy area, thus damaging the sidewalk.

3. Water flow from the drainage pipes seeping into the substrata of the sidewalk. Defendants caused or exacerbated the sidewalk cracks by increasing the water flowing from the drainage outlets in the retaining wall and onto the sidewalk. The defendants modified the existing drainage system by replacing the single drainage outlet with a double outlet that extended four inches further out of the retaining wall. The two drain pipes caused a double-barrel shotgun blast of water onto the walkway areas.

These three factors caused the settling and cracking of the sidewalk and the protrusions that caused plaintiff to trip. Defendants were negligent in causing the deterioration of the sidewalk and failing to maintain the sidewalk, and their negligence was the sole cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

The expert is a professional engineer.

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