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Sidewalks are a big part of American life. They evoke images of neighborhoods, kids riding their bikes and walking from one place to another (instead of driving).

Sidewalks, however, are not without their drawbacks. Seattle must have some of the most dilapidated sidewalks in the nation. One of the primary obstacles is the stub-toe.

A stub-toe is created when one section of sidewalk settles or another is pushed up, usually by roots. Seattle sidewalks are punctuated with stub-toes.

Both the City and the adjoining property owners are responsible for sidewalk maintenance. They have to make sure sidewalks are not unreasonably dangerous.

Stub-toes are not hard to fix. But apparently neither the City nor property owners view them as a priority. As a result a lot of people trip on stub-toes and get hurt.

In trip and fall lawsuits, defendants try to make the rules up as they go. Fortunately when it comes to stub-toes they’re constrained by a set of very stringent standards.

American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) Standard Practice for Safe Walking Surfaces (ASTM F 1637-02) has specific requirements for sidewalks including:

– Changes in sidewalk levels between 1/4 and 1/2 inch shall be beveled with a slope no greater than 1:2 (rise:run)

– Changes in levels greater than 1/2 inch shall be transitioned by means of a ramp or stairway that complies with applicable building codes, regulations, standards, ordinances, or all of these.

The ASTM cuts property owners very little slack for stub-toes. That makes sense. They present a significant hazard to pedestrians and can be easily fixed.

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