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Michigan Supreme Court dismisses sidewalk injury lawsuit

SAGINAW, MI — The Michigan Supreme Court has dismissed a Saginaw woman’s lawsuit against the city related to an injury she suffered after tripping over a sidewalk defect.

In a 7-0 decision, the high court on Tuesday, July 5, reinstated a previous dismissal of Sue Bernardoni’s lawsuit against the city of Saginaw.

Bernardoni in March 2013 filed a complaint in Saginaw County Circuit Court in relation to a fractured wrist she suffered after, she claimed, she tripped on an uneven slab of sidewalk on Sept. 10, 2011, on Adams Boulevard between Borland and Snow on the city’s West Side. Bernardoni claimed she tripped over a 2.5-inch vertical discontinuity between adjacent slabs.

Her lawsuit claimed the city was liable under the “highway exception” to the governmental immunity rule, which allows individuals to “recover the damages suffered” that resulted “from a municipality’s failure to keep highways — including sidewalks — in reasonable repair and in a condition reasonably safe and fit for travel … .”

When the claim involves a sidewalk, plaintiffs must prove “that at least 30 days before the occurrence of the relevant injury, death, or damage, the municipal corporation knew or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known of the defect in the sidewalk.”

In Bernardoni’s case, her husband took photographs of the sidewalk about 30 days after the incident, or 60 days after the required time frame, court documents show. In a deposition, Bernardoni testified she did not know how long the defective condition of the sidewalk had existed, court documents show.

City attorneys filed for summary disposition, or dismissal on legal grounds, claiming the photos did not adequately prove the time frame of the defect. Circuit Judge Janet M. Boes granted summary disposition, in effect dismissing the case. Bernardoni appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Boes’ ruling.

Bernardoni was seeking more than $25,000 in damages, a figure required for cases to reach the Circuit Court level.

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