“Constructive Notice of a Sidewalk Defect for a Municipality”

In Missouri, whether municipalities have constructive notice of an unsafe condition on a sidewalk is a question for the jury to decide. Scanlan v. Kansas City, 223 Mo. App. 1203, 19 S.W.2d 522, 525 (1929). If you have fallen on a city sidewalk in Missouri, you made be entitled to compensation based on constructive notice.

In Dorlon v. City of Springfield, Plaintiff caught her foot in a gaping hole in the sidewalk and fell, causing injuries. 843 S.W.2d 934, 936 (Mo. Ct. App. 1992). There are many important holdings from this case. First off, the City of Springfield correctly asserted that, “[a] city is entitled to reasonable time after it obtains knowledge, actual or constructive, of a dangerous condition of the street in which to repair the condition and that it is not liable until it has neglected such opportunity…” Id. at 943. The court held that, “[t]here is no fixed rule as to the length of time necessary to justify a presumption of notice to a city of a dangerous condition on a public street or sidewalk. Each case must depend upon the facts and circumstances shown therein.” Id. Secondly, a city is liable for an unsafe street condition, “where the dangerous and defective condition is of such nature, even though not ‘obvious and notorious,’ and has existed for such a length of time that the city in the exercise of ordinary care could and should have discovered and remedied it.” Id. Furthermore, in Dorlon, a grounds keeper for the University who worked frequently in the area in which Plaintiff fell, testified he was aware of the defect in the sidewalk. He said that the crack started out small and then became multiple cracks. Then, it became larger for several summers before 1988, the year in which Plaintiff fell. Id. The groundskeeper further testified that the defect in the sidewalk was a gradual, slow deterioration. Id. The Court held that, “[f]rom this evidence, a jury could reasonably infer the defect had existed long enough for the City, using ordinary care, to have discovered and remedied the unsafe condition.” Id.

There are many different factors to determine negligence in a sidewalk fall case against a municipality. One of these factors is the length of time, as mentioned above in Dorlon. Other factors to be considered when determining if there is negligence are in Fischer v. Kansas City 446 S.W.2d 451, 454 (Mo. App. 1969), as they reference 63 C.J.S. Municipal Corporations, pgs. 130 and 136. Some of the factors to be considered include the following:

  1. The depth or elevation of the sidewalk depression
  2. The appearance of the defect
  3. The visibility of the defect. i.e., Was the defect interfered by grass, dirt, or debris?
  4. Busyness of the area
  5. Vicinity to a bus stop
  6. Setting. i.e., Was the area in a rural or urban/business setting?

To conclude, whether or not a Plaintiff may recover damages under the theory of constructive notice in a sidewalk municipality case is a question for the jury to decide. There are many factors to be considered and which ones will matter most will ultimately depend on the jury.

Jill S. Bollwerk
Helping St. Louis area residents with personal injury, workers' compensation & insurance appeals/disputes.