Sidewalk-related slip and trips produce some of the most frequent and severe claims for the Authority. Over the last five years the Authority has paid more than $14 million settling slip-and-trip claims. While uneven sidewalks can be a common source of such slip-and-trip claims, local governments can help mitigate the risks associated with sidewalk deviations by implementing effective sidewalk maintenance and inspection programs.
At the 2019 Risk Management Educational Forum Authority members participated in a session entitled Blaze Your Own Trail: Establishing a Comprehensive Sidewalk Inspection & Maintenance Program presented by Sean Corrigan, Public Works Director for the City of Moorpark; Maria Galvan, California JPIA Senior Risk Manager; and Michael Wroniak, a partner with the law firm of Collins, Collins, Muir + Stewart, LLP.
The speakers established the importance of having a written sidewalk inspection and maintenance policy as part of an agency’s sidewalk inspection program. Sidewalk inspection and maintenance policies serve many useful purposes including providing guidelines to employees, conveying information to residents, and preventing and/or minimizing lawsuits and exposure. An effective policy defines sidewalk inspection and maintenance timeframes which, depending on the organization, can vary from once a month to once every few years. The policy also defines criteria, guiding inspectors to look for things like dips, cracks, shifts, breaks, or raises in sidewalk surfaces. The final element of an effective policy is a defined set of actions, including warnings, immediate repairs, scheduled repairs, and property owner notifications.
Participants learned best practices for conducting inspections and maintenance. Inspecting sidewalks is best done on foot rather than in vehicles, since it is easier to notice sidewalk deviations while walking. While conducting inspections and maintenance, it is important to complete proper documentation, noting the location, what was found, what was and was not done, and any relevant measurements. Legal standards related to sidewalk maintenance indicate that deviations less than ¾ of an inch are trivial as a matter of law, deviations of ¾ of an inch to one inch are generally handled on a case-by-case basis, and deviations of one inch or greater generally require action.
As the session concluded, the speakers shared sidewalk inspection and maintenance case studies from the City of Burbank and the City of Moorpark.
In the early 2000s, the City of Burbank saw an increased number of injuries, including trips and falls, along with a decline in funding for sidewalk repairs. In 2003, the city launched a strategic approach to simply and persistently address sidewalk maintenance needs. They began a 10-year citywide repair program that involved following up immediately upon notification, requiring developers to repair sidewalks, and fixing sidewalks and pedestrian ramps when streets were repaired. As a result of the program, more than 1 million square feet of concrete in the city were repaired and sidewalk-related claims decreased from an annual high of $350,000 in Fiscal Year 2004-2005 to zero in Fiscal Years 2008 through 2013.
In the City of Moorpark, the sidewalk inspection and maintenance program scrutinizes 65 miles of sidewalk each year. City staff enter inspection and maintenance data into a spreadsheet that is used to log historical data, enabling staff to track maintenance needs over time as well as sort data by location, category/priority, etc. The city’s policy also details the parties responsible for various types of sidewalk repairs, with different types of repairs being conducted by city staff, street contractors, Homeowners Associations, and property owners.
Authority members have access to valuable California JPIA resources to assist them in their sidewalk inspection and maintenance policy, including a policy template, a white paper, and a Public Contract Code and Competitive Bidding summary. Members can also take advantage of the Authority’s master service agreement with Precision Concrete Cutting, which offers favorable pricing for sidewalk assessment services, sidewalk trip hazard removal, and/or a five-year maintenance program.