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Judge clears city of Watertown of liability for allegedly defective Court Street sidewalk

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A state Supreme Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the city of Watertown brought by a town of Pamelia woman who was injured when she fell on a Court Street sidewalk.

Judge Hugh A. Gilbert granted motions of summary judgment on behalf of the city, Neighbors of Watertown Inc. and Purcell Construction Corp., ending legal action brought in June 2012 by Eileen N. Fanning, according to documents filed Friday at the Jefferson County clerk’s office.

Mrs. Fanning’s suit claimed that she fell on an uneven section of sidewalk between 114 Court St. and 118 Court St. on March 8, 2011. She suffered multiple broken bones in her hand, as well as neurological damage to her arm, among other injuries. The damages were permanent, according to her action, and caused her to lose wages.

At issue were landscape pavers laid by Purcell Construction as part of a Neighbors of Watertown project in the early 1990s to renovate the Brighton Building above the former Empsall’s department store into apartments. While that project took place at 130 Court St., other property owners in the area asked to be included in the sidewalk reconstruction and Neighbors of Watertown gained city approval to do so. The former owner of 118 Court St. contracted separately with Purcell for the construction of a new sidewalk in the area where Mrs. Fanning was injured.

Judge Gilbert ruled that Neighbors of Watertown was not liable for her injuries because the agency neither owned nor controlled the property where the injuries occurred and therefore “did not owe a duty of care” to users of the walk as it was not responsible for the sidewalk’s maintenance.

The judge ruled that the city was not liable because it had received no prior written notice about the alleged defective condition of the property. Citing case law, Judge Gilbert wrote that written notification is a “condition precedent” to an action against a municipality that has enacted a prior written notice law, as is included in the city’s charter. He said Mrs. Fanning was unable to prove that the city had ever received any notice that the sidewalk was defective and there was no indication that the city had created the alleged defect. He also noted that the city did not perform the sidewalk reconstruction.

Judge Gilbert also agreed with Purcell Construction’s claim that the area claimed to be defective is “one little section” of sidewalk “over which the public walked” for nearly 20 years. He ruled that Purcell Construction, despite having built the walk, was not responsible for its maintenance and had done nothing since its construction that would have created or exacerbated a dangerous condition.

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