In a recent case, a woman was injured after she tripped on a large crack between two sidewalk slabs. The woman sued the city, arguing that the city was liable for failing to maintain the sidewalk in reasonable repair. She claimed that the sidewalk’s hazardous condition had been present for over 30 days before she fell. Indeed, under state law, this was a necessary element that needed to be proved in order for her case to be successful.
Under the state’s law, for a sidewalk defect case, a plaintiff was required to prove that the city knew or should have known about the existence of the defect at least 30 days before the injury. If there was an obvious defect at least 30 days before the injury, the city was presumed to have knowledge of the defect. The city took the woman’s deposition, and during her deposition she stated that she did not know how for how long the condition had been there. The woman submitted three photographs taken about 30 days after the accident, which were the only relevant evidence she had of the condition. The city moved to have the case dismissed. That state’s supreme court found that the evidence of the photograph could not show that the defect existed at least 30 days before the woman’s accident. Thus, the case had to be dismissed.
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is a decision made by a court based on the available evidence. The judgment considers whether there is sufficient contradictory evidence that amounts to a dispute of an issue of material fact. If there is a sufficient dispute, the case should be sent to trial so that a judge or jury can resolve the factual dispute based on the evidence presented at trial. The purpose of summary judgment is not to make a decision on a factual dispute but instead to decide whether a factual dispute exists.