Sidewalk Trip Gives Rise to Woman Suing Family | Courthouse News Service
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Sidewalk Trip Gives Rise to Woman Suing Family

(CN) - A woman who hosted a family picnic may be liable to the relative who fell and broke her wrists while going to get cigarettes from her car, a federal judge ruled.

On the afternoon of July 20, 2011, Phyllis Centanti Vogel, of Sunrise, Fla., attended a family picnic held at Cheryl Hathaway's home in Rahway, N.J. About half an hour after she arrived, Vogel went to retrieve cigarettes from her car, which she had parked near the curb in front of Hathaway's house.

Once Vogel passed through Hathaway's front door, she tripped and fell on a step leading to the sidewalk, seriously injuring her wrists. Vogel later underwent two surgeries as a result of the fall.

Vogel sued Hathaway for negligence, alleging failure to warn of unsafe and hazardous conditions.

Vogel testified that the step had an "unexpected height differential." Her expert, Paul Stephens, opined that "a higher than expected step during descent such as the over 10-inch high single step at the sidewalk versu[s] the 7 to 7 5/8 inch entry steps ... [would] violate user expectation." He said the exterior steps of Hathaway's house "were not compliant with the building code in effect at the time of construction."

Hathaway countered that Rahway township replaced the front steps and railings in 2005, and that she was not aware of any problems with the steps.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton refused to grant Hathaway summary judgment.

"There are genuine issues of material facts relating to whether defendant knew or should have known about the alleged defect in the steps and whether the steps' height differential posed an unreasonable risk of harm to plaintiff," the April 10 ruling states. "Additionally, there is a dispute regarding whether plaintiff should have realized the allegedly defective condition and whether she had the opportunity and ability to exercise care while walking down the steps. In light of plaintiff's expert report, the relevant deposition testimony, and answers to interrogatories, there are genuine factual issues for a jury to determine. In light of the disputed facts, defendant is not entitled to summary judgment."

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