Woman Falls Into Sewer After Stepping on Loose Manhole Cover


Civil Engineering Expert WitnessThis case involves a woman who was going towards a soccer game in which her son was playing when she walked over a grassy area with a manhole cover. The grass hadn’t been cut in some time, and was partially obscuring the cover. Without being able to see the cover, the woman stepped on the manhole cover, which was situated over a sewer pipe, and the cover immediately flipped and spun. As a result, the woman’s foot went all the way down into the hole; she fractured her leg and suffered serious injuries to both of her knees.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please describe your experience in civil engineering, particularly as it relates to manhole covers.
  • 2. Have you ever reviewed a similar case?
  • 3. What responsibility does a municipality or county have to maintain its manhole covers?
  • 4. How might a cover become loosened to the point that it would flip when stepped on?

Expert Witness Response E-001121

I have a degree in Civil Engineering and I am a registered Civil Engineer in the state in question here. I have done a significant amount of consulting work at water and wastewater facilities and public works facilities over the years. I have previously designed piping systems that included manholes and I have written specifications for them. I have had similar fall cases that included holes, utility covers, manholes, openings and other related fall hazards that were direct contributing factors to personal injuries including major injuries and deaths. Industry standards require that walkway surface hardware, including manhole covers, be maintained flush with the surrounding surface within the foreseeable pedestrian path. Since the municipality owns it then it would be their responsibility to comply with industry standards. The municipality’s internal operation and maintenance procedures should also be reviewed. The type, size and location of this manhole should also be evaluated regarding requirements related to usage, maintenance schedule, and inspection. Most manhole covers are cast iron and quite heavy and held in place under their own weight. Manhole covers subjected to wheel loads in roadways are usually bolted in place to prevent them from being dislodged by vehicular traffic. A dislodged manhole cover in a grassy right of way, that is not a roadway, could only occur as a negligent or intentional act unless there was a spontaneous combustion event or similar dynamic loading condition that may dislodge the cover.

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