News & Blog

Blog

Prior Written Notice for Staircases Upheld Hinton v. Village of Pulaski

March 21, 2019 • Posted By • Risk Managment

A local man fell down a rustic set of steps on his way to his favorite fly-fishing hole, but is the city liable? “‘[N]o civil action shall be maintained’ against defendant Village of Pulaski for personal injuries sustained as a result of a defect in ‘any street, highway, bridge, culvert, sidewalk, or crosswalk’ unless prior written notice of the alleged defect is provided to the Village.” Village of Pulaski Code §122-14. This is a common example of a prior written notice law, intended to protect city and village governments. Here, Hinton fell down what he alleged was a negligently maintained staircase, but he failed to plead or prove the Village received prior written notice of a defect in the staircase. The Village moved for summary judgement and it was granted. The issue is whether the Village of Pulaski’s prior written notice law encompasses this staircase? Though the statute does not expressly mention stairways, these prior written notice statutes have been expanded to include them based on the “functional equivalence” test from Woodson v City of New York, 93 N.Y.2d 936, 937 (1999). Essentially, if the stairway functionally fulfills the same purpose as a roadway or sidewalk, then it will fall under the prior written notice statute. Despite the dissent’s impassioned call for stricter interpretation of the plain meaning of the statute, the majority sided with precedence and stare decisis, citing the lack of an “extraordinary and compelling justification” that would be required to overturn precedents. The standalone set of stairs, despite being unconnected to a sidewalk, were covered by the statute. Read More