Case Law Dispatch: Sullivan v. AboveNet Communications

By Cory Bilton

Case Law Dispatches

With Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland so close in proximity, nearly every personal injury case in our area involves standards and laws from more than one jurisdiction. To help the legal community notice emerging decisions, Case Law Dispatches provide a very brief snapshot of specific appellate decisions that impact personal injury law in the Washington, DC area.

Case: Sullivan v. AboveNet Communications

  • Court: DC Court of Appeals
  • Decision Date: 3/26/15
  • Appellate Panel: Blackburne-Rigsby, McLeese, and King
  • Trial Judge: Cordero


Plaintiff was injured after he tripped and fell on uneven pavement around a manhole in the roadway.


(a) Whether there was sufficient evidence that AboveNet was responsible for installing the new manhole that caused the plaintiff’s injury?

(b) Whether the trial judge can rule on a motion for judgment, which was made when the plaintiff rested but decided after the jury returned a verdict, by only considering the evidence available at the close of plaintiffs case?

(c) Whether testimony that a roadway hazard existed two weeks prior to the incident was sufficient to provide AboveNet with constructive notice?

(d) Whether an expert fails to establish a concrete standard of care when he references standards, but does not elicit the exact standards at issue in the case?


(a) There was sufficient evidence to show that AboveNet installed the manhole in question: construction permits for the area were granted to AboveNet and DDOT provided testimony on AboveNet’s responsibility for construction in the area.

(b) A trial judge may reserve ruling on a Rule 50(a) motion for judgment made at the close of plaintiff’s case until after the jury verdict, but the trial court must consider the full record as it exists at the time in deciding the reserved motion.

(c) Yes, the jury had sufficient evidence to conclude AboveNet had constructive notice of the tripping hazard because: (1) there was testimony that the tripping hazard existed in the roadway two weeks prior to the incident, (2) the fact it was at a major intersection and (3) the construction permits show the Defendant had been doing work in that area around that time period.

(d) A sufficient standard of care was established through the expert’s testimony that backfilling and compacting were necessary around a manhole installation and that photos of the area showed deviation because depressions had formed. This was sufficient to show that standards were violated and to explain how they were violated.

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