Spot the Tort: Non-Tortious Neighbors are Good Neighbors

Do you ever take strolls around your neighborhood and find yourself appalled by the risky, tortious conditions residents leave on the sidewalks in front of their homes.  A couple weeks ago I passed a house with a pile of boards spilling onto the sidewalk bearing long, upward-turned rusty nails sticking out.  It’s a popular neighborhood where people like to walk, including at night.  I was tempted to knock on the door and explain duties of care and premises liability, but only had an hour, so instead just moved the worst offending boards off the sidewalk.

Then a couple days ago I came upon my new favorite neighbor’s house.  This is a thing of beauty.  Look at the reasonable care they exercised to protect sidewalk travelers, so awesome it earns Tortman’s Good Neighbor of the Month Award.  I would not be shocked if a lawyer lives there.

But you might be thinking, “Oh, Tortman, you’re lost in law professor land.  You worry too much.  People don’t really step on rusty nails on the sidewalk and sue people.”  In rebuttal, I refer you to Pittenger v. The Town of Hamilton, decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1833.  The court held for a plaintiff injured by an upturned nail in a board left next to a sidewalk because “it was so near the traveled portion of the walk or street as to endanger travel thereon.”

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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