DEAR HARRY: I just learned of a nasty situation. My next-door neighbor is being sued by a close family friend who lives nearby. This friend claims that he had tripped on the sidewalk in front of the house and injured his arm and both legs. The "tripping hazard" is a PECO cover plate that is sunken slightly in the sidewalk. If you have seen Philly sidewalks, you know that this is far from a tripping hazard. Can my neighbor and the utility be sued for something like this? I feel strongly that this guy is just "gold-digging." I now avoid him whenever I can.

WHAT HARRY SAYS: First off, let's concede that there may have been an injury. It's also likely that this is a nuisance lawsuit. Many defendants in these cases will settle rather than go to court, to avoid the costs and publicity of a trial. Your conclusion that the plaintiff is hoping for a large windfall also could be correct. About 10 years ago, a friend was sued by his sister for injuries from an auto accident. She sued him for more than his insurance coverage, so he had a potential liability of $450,000. There was obviously no collusion. The case was decided fully in favor of my friend because his sister could not prove negligence or physical injury. Then there is the McDonald's coffee case. Everyone thought the plaintiff got an excessive settlement. The truth is that she had severe burns because the coffee was almost at the boiling point. Why not wait until the case is settled before making a final judgment?