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Seattle Sidewalk Laws

September 29, 2022

Seattle is a beautiful city to navigate on foot along the sidewalks and pathways. With over 2,100 miles of sidewalks within the city, it’s inevitable that pedestrians sometimes encounter cracks and occasional areas of broken cement. These can be a danger to unwary pedestrians. Developed properties inside the city limits require owners to dedicate a portion of the land to public access in a right of way for public use, including city sidewalks.

It’s important for prospective property owners to understand that they bear the responsibility of maintaining the sidewalks that make up the public right-of-way adjacent to any property they own. In return, a well-maintained sidewalk adds to a property’s overall value.

Seattle Sidewalk Laws

What is My Responsibility According to Seattle’s Sidewalk Laws?

Seattle’s municipal code specifies that the city considers a sidewalk damaged under the following circumstances:

  • It has a crack or irregularity greater than half an inch.
  • If any loose piece of the cement moves under foot pressure during ordinary tread.
  • If it has a slope that could disrupt safe pedestrian passage.

When the city finds a section of sidewalk damaged or unsafe it typically issues a Street Use Warning to the abutting property owner and may mark the area with paint as a warning to pedestrians and as an alert to the property owner. In severe cases, the city may temporarily patch the area with asphalt as a safety measure but this isn’t meant to replace actual repair. If the property owner fails to make the repairs or doesn’t respond, Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) may arrange the repair and could place a lien on the property for the cost of the repair or improvement.

Property owners also bear the responsibility to keep sidewalks adjacent to their property free of snow and ice during the winter months and clear of vegetation overgrowth year round.

Are Property Owners Liable for Injuries to Pedestrians on Sidewalks?

In most cases, private landowners are not liable for injuries experienced by pedestrians on sidewalks abutting their property. The following circumstances may be exceptions:

  • The property owner committed a specific act of negligence
  • The roots of a tree on their property caused a crack or unevenness in the sidewalk

The city tasks landowners with a “duty to exercise ordinary care” so as not to create unsafe conditions for pedestrians. By law, pedestrians have a right to assume the sidewalk is safe for navigating on foot.

The city of Seattle may be liable for injuries if found to have failed in its duty to ensure the reasonably safe conditions of its sidewalks and to safeguard pedestrians against unsafe walking conditions. This “duty of reasonable care” includes responding to unsafe situations within an appropriate amount of time. If you or a loved one was injured on a Seattle sidewalk, speak with an experienced Seattle pedestrian accident lawyer to explore your legal rights.

The city of Seattle is responsible for repairing any sidewalk damage caused by city infrastructure or roadwork.

Do I Need a Permit to Repair a Sidewalk?

Seattle codes require property owners to apply for a permit before making repairs to sidewalks. The appropriate permit is the Street Use permit for repairing sidewalks, #55. Property owners can apply online or in person at the Street Use department of the Seattle Municipal Tower.

By keeping sidewalks in good repair, both the city of Seattle and individual property owners not only keep the Emerald City beautiful, but they also protect pedestrians from harm and protect themselves from liability.

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