Law review: Slip and fall in Annecy, France

Jim Porter

My lovely wife Marianne wears a protective “boot” following an ankle injury she suffered at a family wedding in Annecy, France. Here’s the story, which has to do with the law (in case you were wondering).

Historic stairwell in France

Annecy, France is a quaint historic town on a lake in the Alps, much like Lake Tahoe. The lake is glacier fed – turquoise blue rather than cobalt or sapphire blue as Tahoe is often described.

We were leaving our hotel in the historic part of Annecy towards the wedding venue – an old Swiss-style chalet perched in the Alps. As I descended the circular staircase, I noticed that there was no railing on the left side and a fragmentary partial rail on the right side. When I got down to ground level, there was no light, it was dark. I said to my buddy behind me, “Wow, if this was America, I’d leave a stack of business cards and pay for all the injuries.” Yuck, yuck.

Five minutes later, I was outside the stairwell on the cobbled street, waiting for Marianne and the rest of our group. I heard: “Help, I fell. I think I broke my leg. Hmm, that sounds like Marianne. Indeed, Marianne had fallen and learned after an ambulance ride to the nearby clinic that she had torn the ligament in her ankle, which was later determined by an MRI to be several small bone fractures where the tendon came off the ankle. Boot and crutches for the wedding. No trial, of course, we are in France. I understand.

Sidewalks in South America

The stairwell incident reminded me of South America where personal injury lawsuits for trips and falls on sidewalks are frowned upon – to say the least. In Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile, I’ve seen hundreds of holes in busy sidewalks, some the size of basketballs and others you could fall over. head.

I remember in downtown Santiago a two-by-two-foot (by two feet deep) tree shaft where the tree had been removed – in the middle of the sidewalk. In California, this tree pit would have been marked with yellow crime scene tape and flashing red lights. With stacks of lawyer business cards strewn about.

California and America as a whole can certainly be called contentious, at least compared to the rest of the world. What is sometimes overlooked is that lawsuits can lead to positive changes in safety, health and the environment. A letter from a lawyer in Annecy would most likely lead to the installation of handrails with a light bulb – at minimal cost. The same goes for a visible two-by-two-foot opening in the middle of a busy commercial sidewalk. It would be cheaper to fill the hole than to pay expensive medical bills. On the other hand, there is something to be said for watching where you are stepping. As they say in the Tube in London, “Mind the Gap”.

Travel and fall case of the day

All of which brings me to our case of the day (my French from Annecy).

Monica Nunez was walking on a public sidewalk in Redondo Beach when her back foot hit a raised sidewalk slab, causing her to trip and fall forward. She fractured her left kneecap and right elbow. Nunez sued the city for maintaining an unsafe state of public property and for negligence. No other complaints had been made about the slightly raised slab. The height differential was measured at 3/4 inch. The trial court determined that the sidewalk offset was “insignificant” in law. Nunez appealed.

California sidewalk law

While a public person is responsible for maintaining a dangerous condition on their property, such as sidewalks, a property defect is not a dangerous condition when “the hazard created by the condition is of such a minor nature , insignificant or insignificant considering the surrounding circumstances that no reasonable person would conclude that the condition created a substantial risk of injury…a homeowner is not liable for damages caused by a minor, insignificant or insignificant defect on his property …the “insignificant defect doctrine” exists for this very reason to “provide a check valve for the elimination from the court system of unwarranted litigation that attempts to impose on a homeowner what amounts to absolute liability for injury to people.”


The Second District Court of Appeals reviewed precedents for sidewalk tripping and falling cases, and presumably read several law reviews, noting that the 3/4 inch difference, in the absence of other circumstances, is generally considered “insignificant” – no responsibility for the municipality owning the sidewalk.

Although different from many other countries, for better or worse, it’s the law of sidewalks in California.
Jim Porter is a lawyer with Doorman Simon licensed in California, with offices in trucked, City of Tahoe and Reno. These are Jim’s personal opinions. Jim’s areas of practice include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accident, mediation and other transactional matters. He can be reached at [email protected] Where

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