Recently, the City of Portland appealed a denial of its motion for summary judgment on immunity grounds in a Maine slip-and-fall lawsuit. In this case, the plaintiff suffered various injuries after, slipping and falling on ice outside of the Portland Police Department Headquarters’ lobby. Evidently, the plaintiff fell on a partially open brick-paved plaza about seven feet from the exit. The particular location is part of the defendant’s building and is used as a parking area and holding pen. The victim and his wife filed a negligence lawsuit against the City. In response, the City filed various affirmative defenses, including being immune under the Maine Tort Claims Act (MTCA).
Under the MTCA, “all governmental entities shall be immune from suit on any tort claims seeking recovery.” However, the immunity is subject to several exceptions, including the “public building” exception. Under the statute, a “public building” is one that is accessible to the public and serves a public function. When a dispute arises regarding whether an area “belongs” to a building, courts review the area to determine whether it is a “fixture.” The law defines a fixture as something that is “physically annexed” to the property, adapted to the realty, and intended to be irremovable from the property. Similarly, an appurtenance is an object that belongs or is attached to a public building, not including personal property outside the building.
In this case, the defendants argued that the area the plaintiff’s fall did not fit into the statute’s public building exception. The plaintiff did not argue that the area was, in fact, a “public building,” rather, they argued that the plaza was a part of the defendant’s building. In the alternative, the plaintiff contended that the plaza was an appurtenance or a fixture to the building.