Menahem Heskel v City of San Diego (2014) H&FLR 2014-47
California Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District)
13 June 2014
Coram: Huffman APJ, McDonald and O’Rourke JJ
Appearing for the Plaintiff: Mr Michael Feldman (of Law Offices of Michael A Feldman)
Appearing for the Defendant: Messrs Jan Goldsmith and Andrew Jones and Mesdames Jennifer Gilman and Stacy Plotkin-Wolff (of the San Diego City Attorney’s Office)
Catchwords: California – San Diego – negligence – pedestrian – sidewalk – trip – fall – constructive notice
Facts: On the night of 29 September 2009 the plaintiff was walking on the sidewalk of Mission Gorge Road between Jackson Street and Echo Dell Road, San Diego. He tripped on the protruding base of a hollow metal post which was cemented into the sidewalk, causing him to fall and suffer injury. The base appears to have been a few inches tall, but the evidence adduced by the plaintiff was unclear as to how obvious it in fact was.
Section 835 of the Californian Government Code renders a public entity liable for injury caused by a dangerous condition of its property, subject to a plaintiff establishing (a) the dangerous condition of the property at the time of injury, (b) that the dangerous condition proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury, (c) that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury of the kind which was sustained* and (d) the entity had constructive notice of the dangerous condition for a sufficient time prior to the accident to have addressed it. Constructive notice exists where the dangerous condition existed for so long and was so obvious that the entity should have identified it by (inter alia) an adequate inspection system.
The defendant sought and was grated summary judgment on the grounds that it lacked constructive notice: Heskel v City of San Diego (Superior Court of San Diego County, Taylor J, 21 November 2011, unreported). The plaintiff appealed.
Held: Dismissing the appeal, that –
1. A claim of constructive notice has two elements: the plaintiff must establish that the dangerous condition existed for a sufficient period of time, and that it was obvious. Here, the evidence was that the base had been present for up to two years, but did not make a prima facie showing that the condition was obvious. Accordingly summary judgment was properly given.
State v Superior Court (1968) 263 Cal.App.2d 396, followed.
2. The fact that the base was above ground and visible was not enough to require the defendant, in the exercise of reasonable care, to identify it. Semble, for a hazard to be identifiable in the exercise of reasonable care, it should be of a substantial size or visible from public thoroughfares**.
The Court’s judgment is available here.
* Cf Hughes v Lord Advocate  AC 837,  2 WLR 779,  1 All ER 705, 1963 SC (HL) 31
** Cf Inquest into the Death of Stephen Clough (Coroners Court of Victoria, Coroner Olle, 4 March 2010, unreported)