"X" marks the spot 

click to enlarge Dont tread on me: This manhole covers got an appetite - for leg.
  • Dont tread on me: This manhole covers got an appetite for leg.

On April 18, I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of meeting a city sidewalk face-to-face by falling into a manhole.

The accident occurred while walking through the northwest intersection of Weber and Vermijo streets. One minute I was upright, the next whammo! I was cut, bruised, missing a flip-flop and notably incensed.

For a moment, I thought I'd been rolled by a gang of tough, fast hoodlums, such was my shock and awe. But then I located my wallet and realized that my right leg was underground, and I put two and two (like, "Holy broken" and "manhole, Batman!") together.

Following the fall, I contacted the city. After checking later, officials acknowledged the catch-basin manhole cover was not fitting properly and needed repair. I was also informed in a soft and complicit manner they'd be happy to reimburse my doctor and chiropractic bills, and pay for any health services needed.

But hours later, I received another call, bearing a colder and more intimidating tone. After a review, city officials said that since the cover was not technically in the sidewalk, but instead up on the corner, where it is "illegal" to walk, I was at least 50 percent at fault.

Therefore, the city could dismiss responsibility. But, nice guys that they are, since they'd agreed to pay my two bills, then they'd cut me a check, under a "strict compromise."

I grudgingly accepted. End of story.

Until nearly four months later when I decided to find out why the city still hasn't fixed the cap, which now bears a white spray-painted "X."

click to enlarge 94c8_yourturn-25011.gif

Oh, a white "X." The universally understood sign for "Don't step here"? No. In fact, the white "X" only means that the basin below has been treated for mosquito larvae in the preventative fight against the West Nile virus. At least they're on top of that.

Anyway, curious to know whether this is a lawsuit waiting to happen, I decided to open the Yellow Pages and call the ambulance chaser with the largest ad. But first, I ran across The Law Firm of McCormick & Murphy. Its slogan, "Helping Christians Who've Been Injured," commanded this Hebrew's attention.

Turns out M&M will accept non-gentile clientele, but wasn't interested in speaking on record. I soon ditched the phone book to head out on foot.

Luckily, I didn't have to go far. About 30 yards from the accident site, I found attorneys Howard Morrison, David Burford and Steve Price, who were willing to escort me across the street and offer comment.

Among their observations: The sidewalk invitingly slopes up to the cover, and no clear marking or signage warns pedestrians that they shouldn't be walking up there even though it's been reported as an accident site.

Price says the question really is whether the city has immunity for its negligent acts, as the Government Immunity Act in Colorado contains a partial waiver of responsibility for dangerous conditions created on streets and sidewalks.

"If the city created a dangerous condition on the sidewalk and knew of it," he says, "they are liable for injuries and damages."

I asked the city about a repair date. After dispatching a street division employee "to see if it presented a safety concern that required barricading until it can be repaired," a representative informed me that "since the manhole does not sit in a pedestrian walkway, it was determined that it does not present a safety hazard." Beyond that, follow-up correspondence stated "the manhole in question did not require a repair. The cover is loose fitting, but that is part of the design."

Wow message received. Having a sidewalk trapdoor is fine, and people shouldn't be walking up there, anyway. Just let 'em fall in.

For now, I've decided to abandon superstition of sidewalk cracks and the health of my mother's back in favor of avoiding, well, other manhole covers.

If you aren't the type of person who walks in straight lines and takes perfect 90-degree turns, you should watch out. Moreover, if you aren't the type of person who likes seeing your tax dollars go down the drain with, say, the leg of a pregnant woman or elderly man maybe you should watch out, too.


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