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If You Slipped and Fell on a Sidewalk, Who Can Be Held Liable?

Neglected and damaged sidewalks cause hundreds of pedestrian injuries every year in California, and many victims file claims to obtain compensation for their medical bills and other out-of-pocket costs. In a sidewalk slip-and-fall injury case, there are two big issues to resolve. One is the nature of the defect and the other is identifying who is responsible for maintaining the section of sidewalk where the injury occurred.

Common causes of sidewalk defects include:

  • Tree roots that lift the sidewalk from underneath
  • Buckled pavement caused by heat or by water/erosion
  • General lack of maintenance
  • Road construction and heavy equipment nearby (in which case there should be warning signs near the damaged area)

Other factors may contribute to making a sidewalk dangerous. For example, fallen leaves or other debris may obscure a significant defect and lead to a fall. Or a sidewalk could be on a severe slope that makes any cracks more dangerous.

Not every crack or irregularity in a sidewalk is grounds for a claim. In California, our courts have decided that elevation differences of less than three-fourths of an inch are “trivial” defects, which means it’s unlikely that an injured person can recover damages. On the other hand, a variation of one inch or more is very likely to be considered a legitimate basis of a lawsuit.

The first step in proceeding with a claim is determining who is responsible for the sidewalk. Most sidewalks are technically “owned” by the city or other municipality. If a government entity controls the sidewalk, it can be difficult — but not impossible — to win your personal injury case. The difficulty comes because courts are sensitive to the fact that cities have to balance public safety against their budgetary limitations. In addition, injured pedestrians must file a notice of claim within a short period of time after the accident — perhaps as little as 30 days.

However, California property owners are under a duty to maintain any sidewalks fronting their property and to keep them “in such condition that the sidewalk will not endanger persons or property.” Additionally, many (if not most) cities have passed ordinances that put the burden of sidewalk maintenance on adjacent property owners. As a result, a person injured by slipping on the sidewalk may be able to sue the adjacent property owner for damages using premises liability as the basis for the lawsuit.

At Patterson Law, we have successfully handled injury claims arising from sidewalk accidents in California. We encourage you to contact us right away if you’ve been hurt, because if the sidewalk is considered public property, you could have as little as 30 days to file a notice of claim. Reach our Santa Barbara office at 888-479-4589 or contact us online.