Most customers visiting a store never give the condition of the sidewalks a second thought. We just assume they are safe and well-maintained. The reality is, a crack in the pavement or a sudden unevenness in the surface can send you sprawling. Sidewalk injuries can actually result in more serious injuries than you might suspect. But, what is the duty of a store to keep sidewalks clear? That answer depends on a few factors.
Who is responsible for sidewalk repairs and maintenance?
It is ultimately the responsibility of the property owner to maintain, and repair if necessary, the sidewalks adjoining the property. But, the law is not black and white on this issue. A property owner is required to repair cracks, uneven pavement and potholes. The owner is also responsible for removing snow, ice and debris from the sidewalks, as necessary.
In some cities, notices may be sent to property owners, in compliance with the city’s regulations, if a dangerous or defective condition exists. If the owner does not repair the condition, they may be fined.
Responsibilities of home and business owners
Each city has its own rules and regulations regarding sidewalk maintenance. Most cities make home and business owners responsible for maintaining the sidewalks adjoining their property. For instance, if you slip on an accumulation of ice in front of a store, the store owner may be liable for your injuries. If you trip over a neighbor’s bike, left on the sidewalk by their child, the parents may be liable.
Liability of municipalities for sidewalk injuries
In situations where a sidewalk does not adjoin private property, the appropriate government is generally responsible. Whether it is the city, state, or county, whichever government agency that controls the sidewalk must take responsibility. The government is equally responsible for keeping sidewalks safe and free of defects or dangerous conditions that could result in injury.
Limitations on liability for sidewalk injuries
A property owner is not liable for every caused by a sidewalk defect, however. The law requires that the property owner be given reasonable time to discover the defect or dangerous condition and eliminate it. For instance, if there was a severe storm during the night, leaving debris on the sidewalk, and a pedestrian is injured by the debris before the store opens the next morning, the store owner would likely not be held responsible.
Exceptions to government liability
Municipalities are not treated exactly the same as private citizens when it comes to the responsibility for sidewalks. Of course, a government authority would be responsible for hundreds or thousands of square feet of sidewalk, making it difficult to maintain surveillance of them all. As a result, unless the municipality has actual or constructive notice of the defect or dangerous condition, they have no liability. A written complaint of a citizen would provide actual notice. Constructive notice means the situation is so obviously dangerous that they should have been addressed.
Another exception for government agencies is that, if you are injured, you must file a tort claim with the agency within, normally, 45 days after your injury. Otherwise, your claim may be rejected.
If you have questions regarding sidewalk injuries, or any other personal injury issues, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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