City of Long Beach disputes liability in sidewalk trip and fall. $145K. Los Angeles County.


When plaintiff trips on city sidewalk in his own neighborhood, the argument is over notice and the trivial nature of the defect.  

The Case

  • Case Name: Michael Williams v. City of Long Beach
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC538529
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, July 29, 2016
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, May 05, 2014
  • Type of Case: Dangerous Condition Public Property, Trip and Fall
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Josh M. Fredricks
  • Plaintiffs:
    Michael Williams, 64, artist/architect.
  • Defendants:
    City of Long Beach
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $145,189.56
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 85% allocation to the City and 15% allocation to plaintiff. The jury found the deviation constituted a dangerous condition and that the City knew, or should have known, of the danger.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medical: $15,189.56 

    Future medical: $10,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past pain and suffering: $60,000

    Future pain and suffering: $60,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 4 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 hours.
  • Jury Polls: Unanimous.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Since plaintiff exceeded his C.C.P. 998 offer, he was entitled to the statutory costs contained in the Code.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Ball and Bonholtzer by Eric C. Bonholtzer, Pasadena.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Office of the Long Beach City Attorney by LaTasha N. Corry and Monte H. Machit, Long Beach.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Martin Tynan, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Orange. (Treating physician.)

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Geoffrey Miller, M.D., orthopedic surgery, El Segundo.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Brad Avrit, P.E., safety, liability, Marina del Rey.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Arthur Cox, liability.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On June 18, 2013 plaintiff was going for a morning walk and was two houses away from his home of over fifteen years when he tripped on an elevated gap in the sidewalk at 147 ½ West 52nd Street in Long Beach.

    Plaintiff suffered a broken kneecap as a result, and wires were placed to help it heal. Plaintiff underwent physical therapy at the Veteran’s Administration. The agreed-upon past medical bills under Howell were $15,189.56.

    There was no loss of earnings claim.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff contended that the deviation in the sidewalk was over 1/2 inch and was a dangerous condition. Plaintiff argued the gap was just high enough to pose a tripping hazard, but not so high that it would be readily apparent.

    Plaintiff’s liability expert testified that previous visits by city employees to the street regarding other issues constituted sufficient notice that the City should have been aware of the dangerous condition.

    Plaintiff argued that defendant’s inspection system was inadequate, and if they had an adequate inspection system in place, that the deviation would have been discovered. Plaintiff argued that City employees, such as tree trimmers, who had been out on the block to deal with tree hazards in the three years prior, should have been trained to spot potential hazards and a tabulation system should have been in place to keep track of the number of calls for any given block to see how to best allocate resources. Plaintiff further argued that the amount of times defendant had responded to other calls on the block, both sidewalk and non-sidewalk related, in the three years prior to the incident should have put them on notice if the employees had been adequately trained.

    Plaintiff further alleged that the defendant had actual notice because the deviation appeared on a 2000 survey done by the City. Plaintiff argued that his knee injury impeded his life and activities.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant contended that the deviation was trivial and that thousands of people, including Mr. Williams, had likely walked over that deviation in the past decade without ever tripping.

    Defendant pointed to the fact that there were no requests for service at the location of the deviation until after plaintiff’s fall. Defendant also argued that due to the contrast of the deviation, as well as the fact there were no shadows or other distractions, that had Mr. Williams been watching where he was going, he would not have fallen.

    Defendant contended that their inspection system was reasonable as very few cities have active inspection systems, and none that do are the size of the City of Long Beach. Defendant contended that their employees were adequately trained and there was simply no time or budget to implement the kind of plan that plaintiff proposed. Defendant opined that such a plan would be cost-prohibitive given the amount of sidewalk surface area in the City and the need to allocate resources to the most heavily traversed areas, which posed the greatest threat to the community.

    Defendant argued that since plaintiff lived on a cul-de-sac in a residential part of town, as opposed to a busy thoroughfare, it was lower on the list of priorities than higher traffic areas. Defendant denied that the deviation was present on the sidewalk during the 2000 survey after a thorough review. Defendant argued that plaintiff’s injury was a simple, uncomplicated fracture that should have healed within six months. Defendant argued any pain plaintiff was experiencing currently was the result of his age and degenerative changes in his body.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Broken Patella (kneecap).

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $15,189.56
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $5,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: 0
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: 0

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $74,999
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $10,000