Township Found Not Liable for Injury Caused by Fall in Pothole

Plaintiff Anthony Scafidi (“Scafidi”) was injured due to a fall in a pothole in the road alongside the sidewalk on Stuyvesant Avenue in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. He sued the Township, claiming that the pothole constituted a dangerous condition of public property. In Scafidi v. Township of Lyndhurst, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 925 (App. Div. April 20, 2018), the plaintiff argued that he had met the requirements of the Tort Claims Act to be able to recover for his injuries against the Township.

Scafidi had been visiting a friend who lived on Stuyvesant Avenue and was walking home when the accident occurred. He accidentally dropped his house keys in the street. When he stepped off the sidewalk to retrieve his keys, his left foot stepped into a pothole, causing him to fall. He suffered a fracture, necessitating surgery to his foot.

One year after the accident, he retained an expert, who inspected and measured the pothole at 4 ¼ inches deep. The expert did not record the length or width of the pothole. He opined that the pothole had formed over a period of years, specifically within a 3 to 5 year duration.

The Township filed for a summary judgment, asserting that it was entitled to immunity under the Tort Claims Act. It argued that the plaintiff failed to prove that the pothole was a dangerous condition, that the Township had actual or constructive notice of the condition, that the Township’s actions as to the pothole were palpably unreasonable, or that plaintiff suffered a permanent injury. The judge granted the motion and the plaintiff appealed. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that there were issues of fact which should have precluded the motion from being granted.

The Appellate Division noted that potholes and depressions are common features of roadways. Not every defect in a highway is actionable. The Court found that the Township’s inaction in repairing the pothole was not palpably unreasonable. Had the plaintiff not dropped his keys, he would not have stepped into this portion of the roadway. This area was not one designated as a pedestrian crosswalk and a car would have driven over the pothole without incident. Hence, the Court agreed that the Township’s failure to repair this pothole was not palpably unreasonable. Thus, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of this lawsuit.

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