What Is Constructive Notice?

This is a question currently being debated in South Carolina courts in the case of Alberta Major v. City of Hartsville. Ms. Major was a student at Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina in December of 2008. In walking on the city-owned sidewalk and adjacent grassy area on a street corner near campus, she stepped in a rut created by cars short-cutting the corner, injuring her ankle and incurring the cost of medical treatment and physical therapy. She sued the City for failure to maintain and repair the defect.

However, the Tort Claims Act provides that governmental entities are not liable for a loss arising out of a defective highway, road, street, causeway, bridge or other public way if they did not receive “actual or constructive notice” of the problem. The Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals granted summary judgment to the City of Hartsville, writing, in essence, that even if the City might have known that there was a general condition caused by vehicles cutting across the grassy corner, they did not have constructive notice of the particular depression, rut or hole that caused Major’s ankle injury.

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