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Manhole Covers May Expose Your Utility To Unacceptable Litigation Risk

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The City of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada was recently involved in a legal defense that resulted from an accident involving a displaced manhole cover. As a result of the court action, a risk analysis was conducted on all manholes covers, catch basin covers and other similar wastewater collections system appurtenances. The analysis was required to evaluate the City's exposure to future lawsuits or damage claims resulting from accidents, vandalism, misuse, personal injury or property damage associated with the collection system.

The events that led to the above mentioned lawsuit occurred on June 24, 2003 at approximately 2:00 a.m., when a young male pedestrian was badly injured as a result of a fall down an open manhole. The manhole was located on a storm tunnel that is 5.5 metres (17 feet) in diameter and 33.5 metres (110 Feet) deep. The pedestrian survived the fall mainly because of the configuration of the manhole but he was permanently confined to a wheelchair as a result of his injuries. It was not clear how or why the cover was off the manhole frame at the time of the accident but the resulting lawsuit questioned the safety and security of all manholes and catchbasin covers in the City.

As a result of the permanent injuries sustained by the victim, a law suit was filed against the City of Edmonton for approximately nine million dollars in compensation. Needless to say, the City responded with a rigorous defence of the allegations made in the court documents that were filed. In preparation for the court case, the Lawyers for the victim requested a vast amount of information including tunnel design records, construction documents, complaint history and current maintenance information about the City's wastewater collection system. The purpose of the information was to attempt to prove that the City's negligence resulted in the injuries to their client.

This paper will discuss the following issues:

The results of the court case settlement and the major issues that were repeatedly raised by the team of Lawyers representing the victim.

It will provide wastewater collection system operators with specific things they should be doing to protect themselves and their municipality or utility from similar lawsuits.

It will discuss the findings of the manhole cover risk analysis study and review the effectiveness of manhole cover security devices.

It will review the measures taken by the City of Edmonton to secure manhole covers based on the magnitude and severity of all risk factors.
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Keywords: cover; injury; manhole; risk; security

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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