Governmental Unit Is Not Liable for Personal Injuries Unless the Result of an Insufficiency with Notice Thereof

Richard v. Pembroke School District
Richard v. Pembroke School District
No. 2004-064
Thursday, October 21, 2004

In Richard v. Pembroke School District, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the well-settled principle that a governmental unit is not liable for personal injuries arising out of the maintenance of a sidewalk unless the injuries were caused by an “insufficiency” and the governmental unit had notice thereof.

The plaintiff, Debbie Richard, alleged that she tripped on a grassy island in front of the Pembroke Academy. A curb surrounded the grassy island, and one side of the island abutted a sidewalk. The plaintiff and her husband sued the Pembroke School District for alleged damages resulting from the fall.

The Supreme Court reasoned that the District, as a governmental unit, was not liable for “any personal injury . . . arising out of the construction, maintenance, or repair of public highways and sidewalks . . . unless [it] was caused by an insufficiency” as defined by RSA 231:90, II. Essentially, a sidewalk is insufficient when: (1) it is not passable in any safe manner; or (2) a safety hazard exists which is not reasonably discoverable or avoidable. RSA 231:92, II.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Ms. Richard’s injuries resulted from an “insufficiency,” the plaintiffs failed to show that the District had notice thereof. RSA 231:92, I states, in relevant part, that a governmental unit is not liable for a personal injury arising out of an insufficiency unless: (1) the governmental unit had written notice, and failed to act; (2) certain officials had actual notice, but were grossly negligent or exercised bad faith in responding to the condition; or (3) the insufficiency was created by an intentional act of a governmental unit officer or employee acting within the scope of his or her official duty.

Because it was undisputed that the District did not have notice of any alleged insufficiency, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims against the District.