In the state of California, all property owners, or those in control of property, are expected to maintain their property in accordance with minimum acceptable standards. When a property owner fails to do so, he or she may be sued under premises liability law, explains a California personal injury attorney. Commonly referred to as “slip-and-fall” cases, injury that occurs due to dangerous maintenance conditions can happen anywhere and can be caused by anything from a wet floor to a cracked floor to a poorly designed sidewalk or staircase that causes a fall to occur.
When the property is owned or controlled by the government, however, there are special legal rules that apply. These rules exist because of a legal doctrine called “government immunity.” In the state of California, the Government Code establishes limited government immunity in section 817, which mandates that public entities are not liable for injuries caused by acts or omissions unless a statutory exception exists. In other words, a government agency, and government employees, cannot be sued unless the law specifically says that the government agency may be sued.
Exceptions to the government immunity rule are also found within the same government code. For instance, Government Code section 830 carves out certain exceptions to the limitations on government immunity when the government creates or fails to correct an especially dangerous condition that is likely to cause harm.
One recent case where a dangerous condition contributed to a pedestrian’s injury occurred in Glendale, California. A city sidewalk had become raised and cracked as a result of the uncontrolled growth of a magnolia tree root. A man named Michael Donovan tripped over the cracked sidewalk as he was carrying a large bowl of leftovers home from a dinner party at a friend’s home.
Mr. Donovan woke up in a hospital room after the fall rendered him unconscious. Upon awaking, he learned that he had bruises and cuts on his face and arms. More seriously, however, he had ruptured his eye globe. This necessitated emergency surgery and a six-day hospital stay. Unfortunately, despite the medical treatment, Donovan will suffer a significant reduction in vision in his left eye that will remain with him for the rest of his life.
In the settlement with the city of Glendale-the party responsible for maintaining the sidewalk and the tree-the city agreed to pay $125,000 in damages. The Los Angeles Times reported that this was an unusually large settlement for the city in a slip-and-fall case.
The large settlement likely stemmed from the permanent nature of Mr. Donovan’s injuries. Personal injury and slip-and-fall damages are intended to provide full compensation for a victim who suffers from harm. This means that the damages should cover medical costs to date; future medical costs; compensation for any reduction in earning power in the future or lost wages to date; as well as compensation for pain and suffering. When an injury is disfiguring or permanent, the damages associated with that injury would be larger, just as they would be for an injury that is extremely painful or expensive to treat.
Mr. Donovan will experience a lifetime reduction in his ability to see out of his left eye. This is a serious impairment and one for which the city of Glendale was responsible for providing fair compensation. The $125,000 settlement is a reasonable and just result in light of the city’s negligence and the lifelong consequences of their careless maintenance.
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