Commissioners reject sidewalk injury claim

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Jeff Woo/DRC
Susan Vaughan, shown Sept. 20 in front of the Courthouse on the Square in Denton, had her injury claim denied by the Denton County Commissioners Court. Vaughan tripped on a hole in the sidewalk last year, and she fell on her face and did about $9,000 worth of damage to her teeth.
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Woman fell on Square last year, incurred $9K in medical expenses

Denton County commissioners on Tuesday denied an injury claim submitted by a Denton woman who fell on the downtown Square sidewalk nearly a year ago.

Last January, Susan Vaughan’s toe became lodged in a hole in the Courthouse on the Square sidewalk, causing her to fall, damage four teeth and incur $9,000 in medical expenses. She submitted an injury claim to the county.

Vaughan said she’s disappointed commissioners denied her claim, which to date has cost her $6,000 out of pocket beyond her insurance claim of nearly $3,000. She said she will need to consider her options as a result of Tuesday’s action.

County commissioners met on five occasions in executive session to discuss Vaughan’s claims, contemplated litigation or a settlement offer before Tuesday’s decision was made.

“We sent it to the Texas Association of Counties, who we’re insured with, and ultimately denied her claim,” County Judge Mary Horn said. “They denied the claim, so we’re denying the claim.”

John Feldt, the county assistant district attorney, declined to comment on the claim Tuesday.

For months, Vaughan and Yvette Spicer, a Denton resident who broke her arm after tripping and falling on the sidewalk in May, have urged city and county officials to take responsibility for repairing the sidewalks outside the courthouse. So far, neither entity has claimed responsibility.

In recent months, Vaughan has spoken publicly at city and county meetings requesting the two entities determine who has authority to install sidewalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act by November 2018. She’s even presented copies of a signed 1958 resolution in which the city government at the time agreed to maintain the streets around the downtown Square, while the county claimed responsibility for the curbs, gutters and sidewalks.

Again Tuesday, Vaughan came before county commissioners during the open forum portion of the meeting, prior to their vote, to ask them to find a resolution soon for repairing sidewalks outside the downtown courthouse.

“My goal has been and remains clear that the county owns the sidewalks and is responsible for their maintenance and repair,” Vaughan said in an email following Tuesday’s meeting. “Those sidewalks need to be replaced, and the county can enable the city to partner with them to have this done.”

Howard Martin, Denton’s interim city manager, has said city and county staffs are working on an interlocal agreement in which the city would contribute funds and a work crew for the repairs.

Horn said county officials are working with the city to resolve the issue. She added she’s hopeful a resolution is reached “the sooner the better for Mrs. Vaughan’s sake, for [the county’s] sake, the public’s sake, the city’s sake, everybody.

“I’d love to get it resolved, the whole thing. I don’t want to say anything yet because we’re still talking, and I’d like to be able to continue talking. I want to get the whole thing resolved. There’s more than just Mrs. Vaughan’s claim.”

In other action Tuesday, commissioners approved the schematic design for the third phase of the county’s administrative complex in a 4-1 vote.

The design, which has been tweaked recently, includes a three-story, 89,225-square-foot facility that will house the budget, purchasing, human resources, county auditor and county treasurer department offices. The complex also will house the Precinct 1 justice of the peace offices and courtroom, Precinct 1 constable offices, the commissioners’ courtroom, offices for the aide to Commissioners Court and Horn’s office. It also will include a lawn that can be used for community events.

Commissioner Hugh Coleman cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he opposed the construction of the lawn.

Estimated costs for the facility are nearly $38.6 million, about $4.5 million more than earlier projections. The complex, which will face Karina Street off South Loop 288, is slated to begin construction in early 2018. Work on the project could take three to four years to complete, according to officials.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.


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