Iowa Supreme Court Reverses District Court’s Dismissal of Pedestrian Lawsuit against City over Defective Sidewalk

Posted on: April 13th, 2021

Plaintiff fell while walking along a City sidewalk and broke her arm and wrist. She alleged her fall was caused by the defective sidewalk. Plaintiff sued the City for negligence, alleging that the City failed to properly maintain, repair, and warn about the dangerous, defective, and uneven sidewalk. The City filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, asserting that Plaintiff’s suit was barred by the public-duty doctrine. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss. Plaintiff appealed and the Iowa Supreme Court retained the appeal.

The public-duty doctrine “bars certain negligence claims against governmental entities” and does not allow individuals to sue the government for breach of a duty owed to the public at large. However, while this doctrine provides immunity from certain suits, the Iowa Supreme Court explained “the public-duty doctrine and suits against municipalities over hazardous sidewalks can coexist.”

In reversing the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s suit, the Iowa Supreme Court stated “the public-duty doctrine does not mean that the City can install a sidewalk and never worry about maintaining it. . . . the City is liable for its sidewalk to the same extent a private property owner doing the same thing would be.” Accordingly, Plaintiff’s suit against the City for failing to properly maintain its sidewalk should not have been dismissed for failure to state a claim based on the public-duty doctrine.

Fulps v. City of Urbandale, No. 19–0221 (Iowa Apr. 6, 2021).

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