As we walk down the sidewalks of our cities and towns, most of us assume that they are safe and well-maintained. However, time and the elements take their toll on streets and sidewalks, leaving cracks in the pavement, for example, that can cause someone to trip and fall. Believe it or not, sidewalk injuries can be serious, even resulting in head trauma. In many cases, the one is responsible for injuries from a defective sidewalk, is the city or town. Trip and fall claims against a municipality can be tricky, so discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney before deciding what action you should take.
Who is responsible for sidewalk repairs?
Of course, a private property owner is responsible for repairing cracks and uneven pavement on a sidewalk that is for public use. To put it more clearly, a property owner is responsible for the condition of a sidewalk that adjoins his or her property. In some cities, private property owners receive notices, pursuant to city ordinances, that repair is required and the failure to do so will result in a fine.
The responsibility of a municipality
So, what happens when a sidewalk is not adjoining the property of a private citizen or a business? These are typically the responsibility of the federal, state or municipality where the sidewalk is located. Government agencies have the same duties and liabilities as a private citizen, in that the sidewalks must stay safe and free from any dangerous condition that may cause injury to a pedestrian.
For example, under Missouri law, cities have a non-delegable duty to repair and maintain all public sidewalks. That means, a city cannot pass on its obligation to someone else, regardless of any contract or agreement. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for a city to refuse to accept liability in these cases.
Exceptions for municipalities
Unlike your average citizen, municipalities are easily responsible for hundreds of square feet of sidewalk or more. For this, and other reasons, most cities have established regulations to protect themselves from blanket liability for injuries related to sidewalks. The courts seem to agree in many cases, holding that it is unreasonable to expect a municipality to patrol every square foot of sidewalk to prevent any defects.
Therefore, the general rule is that, unless the municipality has “actual or constructive notice” of the dangerous condition, it will not be held liable for injuries resulting therefrom. “Actual” notice is usually given by a citizen’s written complaint. “Constructive” notice, on the other hand, is accomplished when the condition is so obviously dangerous that the municipality should have known to correct it.
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that makes cases against governmental entities very difficult to pursue. The doctrine provides that a government authority is immune (or free from) lawsuits for nearly all personal injury claims. Luckily, many municipalities waive their sovereign immunity in private injury claims, such as sidewalk injuries. But it depends on the city or state where the injury occurred.
If you have questions regarding automobile accidents, or any other personal injury concerns, 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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