The Pothole Law — passed in 1979 to make it harder for people to sue — protects the city from liability for injuries to people who trip or fall on sidewalks that are “out of repair, unsafe, dangerous or obstructed,” unless a written notice of the defect has been provided to the city’s Department of Transportation at least 15 days before the accident. Previously, the injured person only had to show, usually through witnesses, that the crack or hole or protrusion had been there long enough for the city to be able to fix it.
In response, in 1982, the trial lawyers set up the Big Apple Pothole and Sidewalk Protection Committee, which hires workers to scour the city’s nearly 10,000 miles of streets and document potholes and other defects.
The committee started to supply thousands of maps to the city, documenting hundreds of thousands of purported defects. “The city initially refused to accept the maps as evidence of the required notice, but the lawyers sued — what else? — and won,” Joseph P. Fried wrote in The Times in 1993.
Pothole Map Inadequate for Lawsuits, Court Finds
On Thursday, in a pair of cases, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, ruled that the map was “not sufficient notice” under the Pothole Law.
The map uses coded symbols to represent defects. “For example, a straight line is used for a raised or uneven portion of a sidewalk, a circle for a hole or hazardous depression, a line with a triangle at each end for an extended section of cracks and holes in a sidewalk, and so forth,” Judge Robert S. Smith wrote in his opinion for the court’s majority.