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Premise Owner Owes Pedestrian No Duty To Maintain Public Sidewalk Or Warn Of Hazards

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has held that the owners of a private premises have no duty to pedestrians to maintain a public sidewalk abutting their premises or to warn pedestrians about dangerous conditions of the sidewalk. The Court also held that a municipal ordinance requiring premises owners to maintain adjoining sidewalks creates a duty to the municipality but not to private pedestrians.

Plaintiff alleges he tripped, fell and was injured because a municipal sidewalk was "uneven and replete with cracks." He sued the owners and lessees of the adjoining private property alleging that they had a duty to pedestrians to maintain the sidewalk and to warn pedestrians of dangerous conditions in the sidewalk. The Superior Court granted defendants' motions for summary judgment and plaintiff appealed.

The Court said that although it generally frowns upon the disposition of negligence claims by summary judgment, the existence of a duty is a question of law. The Court noted its jurisprudence providing that a property owner owes no duty to individuals for the condition of public sidewalks when the property owner did not create the dangerous condition. It distinguished its prior holding in Banks v. Bowen's Landing Corp., 522 A.2d 1222 (R.I. 1987), by noting the particular factors considered in that holding to find a duty were "case specific" and that it had subsequently held private landowners owed no duty to individuals with respect to adjoining public property. In addition, in Banks, the plaintiff was a business invitee of the defendant. Defendant had control over the site of the alleged accident. Here, defendants do not have control over the public sidewalk.

The Court rejected plaintiff's argument that a municipal ordinance created a duty to the plaintiff. The ordinance requires property owners to keep adjoining public sidewalks "in good order and repair." It says property owners will be liable to the town for the failure to maintain the sidewalks. The Court said such ordinances only create a duty to the municipality, not to private individuals.

For information on our personal injury defense practice, please see: http://www.sfandllaw.com/Practice-Areas/Personal-Injury-Defense.shtml

Wyso v. Full Moon Tide, LLC, Nos. 2012-195, 2012-359, 2013 WL 5864457 (R.I. Nov. 1, 2013)

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