Interpreting the two-inch sidewalk rule
Diane Gadigan suffered serious injury when she fell on a City of Taylor sidewalk. The sidewalk where she fell was joint of two "teeter-totter" slabs where neither side demonstrated a full 2" high defect or discontinuity. The City argued it could not be held responsible for her injury because the statute addressing sidewalk defects as an exception to governmental immunity immunized the City from defects of less than two inches. The Appellate Court had to explain to the City how to interpret statutory language.
The unanimous appellate court noted that with a significant common law and legislative history, the so-called "two-inch" rule was quite well understood when it was addressed by the legislature in adopting MCL 691.1402a. The legislature wrote the statute to create a rebuttable "inference" that the sidewalk was adequately and reasonably maintained, if the discontinuity defect was of less than two inches. The City wanted the 2 inch "inference" to serve as a conclusive presumption that would result in dismissal, regardless of the injury victim's proferred evidence.
In this case, the victim presented evidence from an engineer documenting his opinion that the defect was more dangerous than a "normal" 2 inch slab discontinuity, and the plaintiff also presented evidence that the City was aware of the defect for three full years before Gadigan was hurt. As a result, the plaintiff had presented admissible evidence for the jury to consider along with the "inference" of reasonable care, and it was for the jury to determine the ultimate issue.