When Brookfield’s village board adopted a new sidewalk replacement policy earlier in February, part of the reason for making the change – Brookfield will now target its replacement efforts rather than simply relying on resident requests – was to reduce its exposure to lawsuits arising from trip-and-fall complaints.
Public Works Superintendent Dan Kaup told trustees that in 2012 alone, the village had received about 10 sidewalk-related complaints. The actual number was seven, according to the village’s human resource director, Michelle Robbins, and none of those led to any expenses for the village.
“True trip-and-falls on defective sidewalks are pretty few and far between,” said Robbins.
However, Brookfield is no stranger to having its liability insurance carrier cough up thousands of dollars to fight the claims and, in some cases, pay settlements to those injured.
From 2007 through 2011, Brookfield recorded 33 incidents involving injuries from trip-and-fall incidents on public property. For those incidents, Brookfield’s liability insurance carrier, the Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (IRMA), paid out $296,408 for everything from paying medical bills to legal fees and other related expenses.
Of the 33 incidents recorded during that time, 10 of them were classified as related to “damaged sidewalks/pathways,” which resulted in IRMA paying about $60,600 for related costs.
Even cases the village “wins” cost thousands of dollars to litigate. One complaint in 2007 involving a village employee who was injured on a public sidewalk or pathway was decided in the village’s favor. But it still cost Brookfield almost $30,000 to litigate that case, according to records obtained from the village of Brookfield.
In the years 2010-13, Brookfield’s average contribution to IRMA has been about $505,000. IRMA is a cooperative risk management pool that includes about 70 municipalities. Annual contributions vary, based on a member’s claim experience as well as other factors, such as village policies that seek to reduce liability. In 2006, Brookfield’s IRMA contribution was $379,300.
According to Village Manager Riccardo Ginex, it was IRMA that suggested the village establish a sidewalk replacement policy that would reduce its risk for exposure to lawsuits. Fewer trip-and-fall incidents on public sidewalks could result in lower annual contributions to IRMA.
The Feb. 18 board decision was a direct result of that advice, according to Ginex.