When it comes to maintaining sidewalks, public agencies are fighting an uphill battle. Wind, rain, freezing temperatures, earthquakes, over sized vehicles, and hundreds of other things cause deterioration and damage to sidewalks and other walkways on a daily basis. No agency can maintain walkways in a perfect condition and that’s why the courts allow the “trivial-defect doctrine” to be utilized in the defense of claims where people have tripped, slipped and fell on walkways.
The “trivial-defect doctrine” has been cited in numerous cases, such as Dolquist v. City of Bellflower (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 261, 264, and Ursino v. Big Boy Restaurants (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 394, 396, over the years and has proved a valuable tool. The key to remember is that there is not a single magic number when measuring the defect. Sure, a 3/4 inch rise is much better than an inch and half rise in the sidewalk, but there are several other factors that play into this defense.
What’s really important and is your single best tool in helping prove your trivial-defect is the Kodak moment, but not all pictures are created equally. A single picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with a reference object such as a steel tape, coin or the wonderful TEC Inchworm is worth a million bucks. Prior to starting any repairs of a walkway (or investigating a claim for damages) a picture with a standardized reference object should be placed alongside of the defect. This provides the attorneys, adjusters and the court with proof of the size of the defect and eliminates the philosophical banter that usually occurs between attorneys. It’s a simple thing to do, so why is it rarely done?
Taking the picture doesn’t always happen, but when it does the bigger issue is making sure you have a reference object handy. Carrying rulers and steel tapes is cumbersome. That’s why we love and highly recommend the TEC Inchworm as a reference object. In the picture at the top of the page, the concrete comes to the 5th ring – go ahead and count them.
Since you are only trying to measure a 1.5 inch or less change in walkway height, the 3 inch key chain tool is the perfect every day carry item. The tool is made of titanium and has markings for every 1/8 inch as well as 1/2 and 1 inch markings. For $18 or so, you can make sure you have a million dollar defense at the ready.