Claim against city and its employees of negligently maintaining sidewalk fails

Government claim, personal injury claim referred to different dangerous conditions

Claim against city and its employees of negligently maintaining sidewalk fails

A man alleged that the City of Stockton, Cal., and its employees negligently and recklessly designed, maintained, and operated a public sidewalk, which led to severe injuries to his knees, hands, and back.

In 2018, the plaintiff in the case of Hernandez v. City of Stockton filed a government claim seeking damages from the city. He said that he tripped and fell on the surface of a public sidewalk and suffered injuries due to a dangerous condition identified as an “uplifted sidewalk.” The city rejected the government claim.

The plaintiff then filed a personal injury complaint. He alleged that the city and its employees negligently allowed the surface of the sidewalk to be in a dangerous condition under section 835 of the Government Claims Act.

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In 2021, the city filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in the city’s favor. The government claim failed to fairly reflect the factual basis for recovery alleged in the personal injury complaint, the trial court said.

Though the plaintiff predicated his government claim on a dangerous condition created by an uplifted sidewalk, he later based his personal injury complaint on a dangerous condition along the sidewalk created by a “tree well hole,” the trial court explained.

Action against city fails

The California Court of Appeal for the Third District rejected the plaintiff’s appeal and agreed with the trial court’s decision in the city’s favor.

The Government Claims Act governs the liabilities and immunities of public entities and public employees for torts. Under section 835, a public entity is generally liable for injury caused by its property’s dangerous condition if the plaintiff can prove the following:

  • The property was in a dangerous condition when the injury occurred
  • The dangerous condition proximately caused the injury
  • The dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that occurred
  • A public employee’s negligent or wrongful act or omission within the scope of their employment created the dangerous condition, or the public entity received actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition before the injury occurred such that it could have taken protective measures.

Section 910 requires a government claim to include the following information: the date, place, and circumstances of the occurrence that triggered the claim; a general description of the injury, damage, or loss; and the name of the public employee who caused the injury, damage, or loss, if known. If the claim does not meet these requirements, the action against the public entity will fail.

In this case, the plaintiff fell short of these requirements, the appellate court said. In his government claim, he identified an uplifted sidewalk as the dangerous condition. However, his personal injury complaint failed to allege an uneven sidewalk and instead mentioned a different dangerous condition, namely a hole created by an empty tree well.

The appellate court noted that, when asked whether it was fair to say that an uplifted sidewalk did not cause the fall, the plaintiff answered that this was correct.

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