If you’re a City of Richmond resident or visit the city often, you’ve likely noticed the city’s sidewalks are riddled with uneven pavement, cracked concrete and missing bricks that can pose a significant hazard to pedestrians. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) defines a sidewalk trip hazard as any change of ¼ inch or more at any joint or crack in the sidewalk.
Richmond has its share of such sidewalk trip hazards. Many citizens have been hurt when they’ve tripped and fallen because of them. The City of Richmond’s Department of Public Works has about 832 miles of city sidewalks to maintain.
Recently, Richmond’s Channel 8 News featured a news story about the neglected city sidewalks, the injuries they’ve caused, and the cost to taxpayers. Commonwealth Law Group founding partner Matt Lastrapes was interviewed for the story because of his experience as a personal injury attorney representing a woman who was seriously injured due to one of the city’s jagged, cracked, uneven sidewalks.
The Channel 8 News story discovered 35 people who have been injured by unsafe sidewalk conditions in locations throughout the City of Richmond. Channel 8 measured one particularly large gap between two sidewalk sections near a city school at a dangerous 8 inches.
Neglected sidewalks cost Richmond taxpayers money. One woman was seriously injured walking out of the Richmond City Library on East Franklin street when she tripped on a section of sidewalk where a metal grate had sunk beneath the surface of the concrete. Her personal injury lawsuit against the City was settled for $105,000 to compensate for her injuries, pain, medical expenses and loss of earnings.
Matt Lastrapes represented another woman in a lawsuit against the City of Richmond. She was severely injured near the Singleton Center of the Performing Arts on Park Avenue where a raised portion of sidewalk caused her to trip and fall. A confidentiality agreement prevents Matt from commenting on the case other than to say that the case was “resolved to our mutual satisfaction.”
Matt, who has represented clients who have allegedly fallen due to the disrepair of public sidewalks, explained that some of the sidewalk hazards in Richmond have gone unrepaired for up to six years, and it could be argued that these problems are now categorized as a public nuisance.
“The city has known about these problems for a number of years,” Matt said. “Failure to make repairs leaves the City of Richmond open to continued claims and lawsuits from pedestrians injured by these known hazardous conditions that plague nearly every section of the city.”
In a 2013 Richmond City Council report, the City Auditor pointed out that the City of Richmond is responsible for maintaining its public sidewalks but that despite significant concerns, sidewalk replacement, maintenance and repairs are not a funding priority. The report goes on to say that the city lacks adequate oversight and recordkeeping to assure compliance with regulations and provide safe sidewalks for the public.
Though the city set aside $1.1 million to repair sidewalks in fiscal year 2017, Richmond City Councilwoman Kristen Larson said only about $200,000 went toward sidewalk repairs.
Matt went on to explain that, “The problem grows worse every year because each year without adequate funding to make repairs is another year that the infrastructure continues to age, making the problem more serious and consequently more expensive to fix.”
The Richmond City Council recently passed a measure earmarking $750,000 for sidewalk repair and maintenance next year which makes Matt hopeful that future pedestrians can be spared injury. “While the primary goal of any lawsuit is to obtain adequate compensation for the injured, it is also important that the lawsuit changes the behavior of a defendant and in so doing, makes our community safer which is exactly what seems to be happening here.”