Manhole incident

Surveillance footage shows Michayla Simpson falling through a loose manhole cover in September. The city has offered her $2,000 as compensation for her injuries.

PAWTUCKET – Michayla Simpson was walking along the sidewalk near the intersection of Hughes and Mendon Avenues on Sept. 12, heading back to her home with her dog in her arms, when what she assumed to be sure footing gave way.

Simpson twisted sideways as the manhole cover she’d stepped on flipped, and she fell partially through the hole. Simpson said she was told if she’d fallen the other direction, her leg would have snapped, and it could also have been worse, she said, if a child or elderly person had been in her place. Her dog could also have fallen in.

Though she didn’t break anything, Simpson said she ended up in an immobilizer and on crutches, with plentiful cuts and bruising on a leg that had previously experienced a broken foot and ankle.

On Jan. 5, the City Council, at the recommendation of its claims subcommittee, voted to offer Simpson $2,000 for her injuries, $499 less than the $2,499 she was seeking in an injury claim against the city

Everyone in the room believed Simpson’s injuries to be real, said Solicitor Frank Milos, but the question was whether the city is responsible for the loose manhole cover. These types of cases are typically 50/50, he said, centered on the city’s duty to maintain its infrastructure and make sure it’s secured. The question, said Milos, is whether the city wants to roll the dice and go to court over a $2,500 claim and spend three years dealing with it. He noted that there was video and photo evidence to back the claim.

“There’s no real easy answer,” he said.

After Simpson initially sought $7,000 and the case was referred to the Rhode Island Interlocal Trust where it was denied, Milos informed her that anything above $2,500 is out of the city’s jurisdiction, and she subsequently reduced her claim rather than pursue the higher amount in court.

City Council President David Moran, who works on larger claims in his day job in insurance, said on Jan. 5 that his inclination was to just settle the claim, and that the city should make an offer. After some discussion, members settled on a $2,000 figure, though without an explanation of why it should be less than $2,500.

Simpson’s claim came with documentation of a $3,300 emergency room visit, said Milos, an amount she said she had to cover because she was unemployed at the time of the incident.

Public Works Director David Clemente said manhole covers have no locking mechanisms but don’t typically move, as they’re very heavy and sit in a recess in the pavement. He said he best guess is that a truck came up on the sidewalk at the intersection and dislodged the cover, enough to make it like a seesaw, and Simpson then unknowingly walked on it and fell through. He said there was really no way for officials to know that the cover was loose.

People walk or drive over manhole covers all the time without thinking twice about it, said Clemente.

According to Simpson in a Facebook post, officials initially put a barrel over the cover and eventually decided to weld it shut four days later.

Clemente said that welding work happened to make sure a similar incident doesn’t happen again.

Simpson said she wasn’t able to get injury attorneys to take her case, and that because she hadn’t broken anything, it wasn’t worth it for them to take the case.

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