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Can the City Be Held Liable for Sidewalk Injuries?

October 17, 2023

A sudden fall while you’re running an errand or walking to a park is painful and embarrassing. It’s even more distressing when the fall causes serious injuries like a head injury, a back injury, or a fractured arm or hip. But who is responsible for damages if the fall occurred on a public sidewalk due to an uneven, cracked, icy, or broken surface?

Falling is one of the most common causes of serious injuries to those of any age, but can be especially damaging for the elderly. Is the city responsible for injuries suffered by someone who falls due to poor sidewalk maintenance?

Can the City Be Held Liable for Sidewalk Injuries?

Common Injuries From Sidewalk Accidents

As the ground slowly shifts and tree roots expand below the surface, sidewalks may crack, lift, and break, sometimes leaving gaps, raised ridges, and debris. When this type of hazard interrupts a pedestrian’s gait, the result could be a bad fall and serious injuries including any of the following:

  • Fractures
  • Head Injury
  • Back injury
  • Sprain, strains, torn ligaments, and other soft-tissue damage
  • Lacerations and abrasions
  • Bruises
  • Broken teeth

These injuries require expensive medical treatment and may leave the victim unable to return to work during the healing and recovery process. When the damages add up quickly after a sidewalk accident, victims may wonder who is liable for those damages when a sidewalk in ill repair directly caused the problem.

Liability in Sidewalk Accidents

Determining liability in sidewalk accidents isn’t always easy. Depending on where the fall occurred, the following parties could be liable for damages:

  • The city itself if the broken sidewalk was on publicly-owned property
  • A property owner or business owner if the sidewalk crossed private property or was adjacent to private property

Property owners in Washington are responsible for maintaining all public-access sidewalks on or adjacent to their property. Cities like Seattle in Washington have sidewalk repair programs to help property owners manage their sidewalks, including keeping them clear of overgrowth from surrounding vegetation, and free of ice, snow, and dangerous cracks, gaps, or broken pieces. If an individual falls due to a poorly maintained sidewalk that’s adjacent to a business or other privately owned property, they can make a claim for damages from the property owner. These damages are typically paid through the owner’s property insurance liability policy.

If the injury occurs on a sidewalk adjacent to a public roadway, the city itself is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk and is liable for personal injury damages if it fails to properly maintain the sidewalk and promptly address any safety hazards.

Proving the City Liable for Damages for Sidewalk Injuries

In order to hold a city sidewalk maintenance agency liable for damages, the injury victim must be able to prove that the city agency was aware of the broken sidewalk and failed to address it in a timely manner by making prompt repairs or placing warning signs or caution tape around the dangerous section. Proving liability for injuries in sidewalk slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall cases requires documenting evidence to prove the required legal elements of liability, including:

  • The at-fault party owed a duty of reasonable care to prevent injuries to others
  • They breached this duty through negligence
  • Their negligent breach directly caused injury
  • The injury victim suffered damages due to the injury

Damages in sidewalk injuries often include the following:

  • Medical costs
  • Lost wages
  • Partial or total disability and diminished earning capacity if the fall caused serious injuries such as a broken hip in an elderly individual or a debilitating back injury
  • Pain and suffering

Because determining and proving sidewalk injury claims can be complex, it often takes an experienced personal injury attorney in Seattle to investigate the accident, determine the liable party, document evidence of liability, and craft a compelling case for damages.

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