A recent decision by the Michigan Supreme Court will likely change the way cities look at repairing their sidewalks, much to the benefit of Michigan residents. At stake was the "2 inch rule," which states a sidewalk is in reasonable repair if a discontinuity defect, a gap in height or width, is less than 2 inches. Basically, if the gap is less than 2 inches the city is generally protected against lawsuits if someone is injured by the gap. If the gap is larger than 2 inches, then the city has to demonstrate the existence of the gap in the sidewalk was not unreasonable. In Robinson v City of Lansing, the court determined the "2 inch rule" only applied to sidewalks running along county highways, which significantly limited a city’s ability to raise the "2 inch rule" as a defense since many sidewalks do not run along county highways.
As with any changes to the law, there has been great concern the ruling will result in increased claims by injured people, costing cities significant amounts of money to pay for medical expenses related to injuries from trip and falls on sidewalks. What many of these critics overlook is the cost of fixing a sidewalk is significantly lower than paying for someone’s medical expenses. The Lansing State Journal gets it right, in my opinion, when they state (emphasis added),
To be clear, state law still requires local governments to maintain safe sidewalks. Members of the public injured due to a defective sidewalk retain their legal rights to seek relief. This is about what the people of this state, under the law, determine to be the standards to adjudicate a defect.
In these times, cities and villages are right to worry about the prospect of increased legal liabilities. Of course, the best defense against a sidewalk lawsuit is to properly maintain the sidewalks to begin with.
This change is not a giveaway to injured people, it simply allows a jury to decide if the city was negligent in maintaining it’s sidewalks. That’s all. If the person should have been more careful then a jury will probably find against them and not award any damages for the injuries.
The Michigan Legislature can always amend the law to allow the "2 inch rule" to apply to all sidewalks regardless of what type of road they run along. This is something they are likely to do given the concerns about increased costs. But that assumes the problem is too many injured people, and not poorly maintained sidewalks.
Many people would not be injured if sidewalks were properly maintained, and better sidewalks increase the value of the city and neighborhood. Performing sidewalk repairs also puts money into workers hands so they can go out and spend it, stimulating our economy and getting us out of this recession.
While the Michigan Legislature may act to fix this "problem" caused by the Robinson decision, city’s should still think twice about whether to fix sidewalks to make their neighborhood’s safer. Improving the sidewalks everywhere is a benefit to Michigan economically and socially, and will also make sure people are able to walk around safely.