What Is Constructive Notice?

This is a question currently being debated in South Carolina courts in the case of Alberta Major v. City of Hartsville. Ms. Major was a student at Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina in December of 2008. In walking on the city-owned sidewalk and adjacent grassy area on a street corner near campus, she stepped in a rut created by cars short-cutting the corner, injuring her ankle and incurring the cost of medical treatment and physical therapy. She sued the City for failure to maintain and repair the defect.

However, the Tort Claims Act provides that governmental entities are not liable for a loss arising out of a defective highway, road, street, causeway, bridge or other public way if they did not receive “actual or constructive notice” of the problem. The Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals granted summary judgment to the City of Hartsville, writing, in essence, that even if the City might have known that there was a general condition caused by vehicles cutting across the grassy corner, they did not have constructive notice of the particular depression, rut or hole that caused Major’s ankle injury.

The case next went up on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which on September 17, 2014, reversed the decision and remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court cited case law finding that if a condition has existed for a long period of time, or is continual, the municipality, in the use of reasonable care, should have discovered it and thus are presumed to have constructive notice of it. In this case, there was testimony from the City Director of Parks and Leisure Services that vehicle traffic there had previously caused depressions that the department had filled with sand or clay, and thus there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the municipality had constructive notice.

Constructive notice is an important issue in premises liability cases. In this type of personal injury case, we seek to hold the property owner liable for damages if he knew or should have known about a dangerous condition but failed to fix it – things like a broken handrail or loose carpeting, slippery floors or icy parking lots. To learn more about premises liability law, go to the Louthian Law Firm website.

If you or your loved one has been injured in a slip or fall on someone else’s property because they negligently failed to correct a dangerous situation of which they had constructive notice, call the Columbia premises liability lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm at (803) 454-1200. We’ll be glad to give you a hand.

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