Idaho SC overturns ruling in favor of city in sidewalk slip case

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Mar 28, 2012


BOISE, Idaho (Legal Newsline) - The Idaho Supreme Court last week overturned a lower court's ruling in favor of a city sued for a woman's injuries at a municipal pool.

In February 2008, JoAn Ball slipped on ice accumulated on the sidewalk between the city of Blackfoot's pool and the parking lot. She was knocked unconscious. In addition, as a result of the fall, she suffered physical and neurological injuries, including double vision, loss of hearing, dizziness and blackouts.

The pool's manager claimed to have sprinkled ice melter on the sidewalk three times before pool visitors began to arrive on the day of Ball's accident -- including the area where Ball later fell.

Ball, along with her husband Fred, sued the city, asserting that it negligently failed to keep the sidewalk free of ice and snow and that "defectively designed" landscaping caused ice to accumulate on the sidewalk.

The Bingham County District Court granted summary judgment to the city and dismissed the Balls' claims, citing a past state Supreme Court ruling. In Pearson v. Boise City, the Court had ruled that property owners are not liable for injuries resulting from natural accumulations of snow or ice.

The Balls appealed.

The state's high court, in its ruling Friday, said the lower court's reliance on the Pearson ruling was misplaced.

"On appeal, the City has focused on the fact that the defendant in Pearson was also a municipality and our statement that '(m)unicipalities are not insurers of the safety of those who use the sidewalks,'" Justice Joel D. Horton wrote for the Court.

"The City's arguments in this regard fail to account for legislative developments that have taken place in the 63 years since our decision in Pearson."

In 1971, the state Legislature passed the Idaho Tort Claims Act.

Under the ITCA, a governmental entity may be liable for its tortious conduct, regardless of whether the tort arose from a governmental or proprietary function.

"As the maintenance of sidewalks is not the subject of an exception to the ITCA, the City may be liable for negligent maintenance of the sidewalk in this case," Horton wrote in the Court's seven-page opinion.

"We therefore hold that the district court erred by holding that the simple accumulation of ice on the pool's sidewalk barred the Balls' claim as a matter of law."

The Court remanded the case, pointing to affidavits containing "conflicting evidence" regarding whether the city failed to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

"Construing all disputed facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the Balls, there is evidence in the affidavits that suggests both that no ice melt was applied to the sidewalk where JoAn fell and that the City's practice of piling snow on the grass beside the sidewalk may have combined with other factors to cause excess ice to accumulate on the sidewalk," Horton wrote.

"Since disputed issues of material fact remain as to whether the City breached its duty to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition, the district court's grant of summary judgment was in error."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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