Homeowner not liable for broken kneecap suffered by woman in trip over water pipe

By Shanice Harris | Mar 23, 2017

HARRISBURG — A woman has lost her lawsuit against a homeowner she sued after she tripped over a water pipe.

HARRISBURG — A woman has lost her lawsuit against a homeowner she sued after she tripped over a water pipe.

Plaintiff Kathryn Gallagher filed appealed an order granting summary judgment to the defendant Kristen Richards. Gallagher opposed a ruling by the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas as to whether she knew or had reason to know of the water pipe that caused her to trip in 2014 in front of Richards' residence.

Gallagher resided in a Harrisburg apartment in a multi-unit low-rise rowhome since October 2012. The rowhome has two entrances—a main entrance and side entrance on Green Street (which she primarily uses).

Richards has a home on Green Street, not far from the plaintiff. On the Green Street walkway, there are several exposed pipes including the pipe in front of Richards' home. For the two years that she lived there, the plaintiff said that the pipes were unsafe, but she did not contact the city’s water company because she claims she wasn’t aware they were water pipes.

On Nov. 12, 2014, Gallagher exited her Green Street entrance, intending on walking to her car to leave for work. As she walked out of her house, she tripped on the pipe in front of Richards’ door and fell. Her right toe hit the pipe. She alleges that she struck the pipe so hard that she elevated in the air before falling to the ground. Gallagher broke her left kneecap along with other injuries.

During her testimony, Gallagher explained that she was not looking down when she exited her house because she likes to be aware of her surroundings. She says she was not aware of the pipe. She also stated that she was not distracted by other pedestrians or cars. The pipe was also not concealed in any way.

After her incident, Gallagher contacted the water company. The company crew examined the area and sent her an email stating it was the homeowner’s responsibility for anything that is on the sidewalk in front of their property. As a result of this, Gallagher sued Richards for negligence. The plaintiff stated that the defendant failed to get rid of the dangerous conditions on her property.

Richards filed for summary judgment, which the Dauphin court granted on May 17. It concluded that Richards has no responsibility to the plaintiff that would give reason for negligence.

The court stated, “A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to licensees by a condition on the land if, but only if, (a) the possessor knows or has reason to know of the condition and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such licensees, and should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, and (b) he fails to exercise reasonable care to make the condition safe, or to warn the licensees of the condition and the risk involved, and (c) the licensees do not know or have reason to know of the condition and the risk involved.”

Since Gallagher testified that she was aware of the pipes on the Green Street sidewalks in front of her house and the defendant's, the court believed there was no negligence on Richards' part.

Gallagher appealed, arguing the issues of whether she knew or had reason to know of the water pipe and risks, whether the pipes were obvious at the time of the injury and whether it is reasonable that a person could forget about the pipe in the moments before falling.

"Although she knew there was a pipe protruding from Richards’ sidewalk, Gallagher tripped on it and was injured. Richards is not liable to Gallagher for those injuries because Richards owed no duty to Gallagher under Section 342 of the Second Restatement of Torts," the Superior Court ruled.

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