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Cochegrus v. Herriman

Cochegrus v. Herriman, 2020 UT 14 (Peterson, J.)

Torts

The plaintiff tripped over a piece of rebar protruding five inches from a park strip. The rebar was rusted and had been nicked several times, and some of the nicks were clean and others were rusted. The plaintiff sued the city (who owned the parking strip), a homeowner’s association that owned the property abutting the park strip, and the property management company that contracted with the homeowner’s association to maintain the park strip. The defendants moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted it because the plaintiff had not provided sufficient evidence that the protruding rebar existed long enough to infer that the defendants had constructive knowledge of it. The Utah Supreme Court reversed, holding:

  • The plaintiff provided sufficient evidence that sufficient time had elapsed that the defendants should have remedied the temporary unsafe condition. The nature of an unsafe condition may itself be evidence of its age. A durable, nontransitory unsafe condition like a protruding metal rod inherently suggests longevity. Here, the metal rod was firmly fixed to the ground and installed years prior, it had been exposed to the elements long enough that it had rusted, the rod had been nicked several times by lawnmower blades, and it was in a residential park strip that was regularly mowed. 
  • The homeowner’s association and maintenance company did not successfully argue that they owed no duty to the plaintiff. A city code provision required abutting property owners to maintain in good condition all park strips. These two defendants did not analyze why a code-based duty to maintain a park strip did not encompass a duty to exercise reasonable casre to remediate any danger posed by the protruding rebar, even if the duty only requires notifying the city of the rod or warning pedestrians of the danger. 

Read the full court opinion

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