Sidewalks and Liability

If you are walking the streets of your fair city or town and you happen to fall on a public or private sidewalk, who is liable?   First off, someone, other than yourself, might not be at fault for your slip and fall.  If there is no negligent party then you will not have a claim for damages as there is no one to place liability on.

Now, let us assume that the reason for your fall was because of someone’s or some entities’ negligence. How do we go about proving that negligence?  Then how would one go about handling that claim for negligence?  It is recommended to consult with a personal injury attorney on these cases as the issues are confusing and somewhat convoluted with private and public access issues at stake.

Negligence in a Slip and Fall Case

The theory of liability in sidewalk accidents is that someone did something wrong, either by action or omission.  Again, just because someone falls on a sidewalk does not mean that someone else is at fault.  The owner of the property must have been remiss in his care of his property.  An existence of a defective sidewalk is also not proof of liability.  In order for an owner of a sidewalk to be negligent the following must be proven:

                 Sidewalk must be in an unreasonably unsafe condition,

                 Owner must have known of or should have reasonably known of that condition.

Notice the caveats, “unreasonably and reasonably” in the requirements.  Most jurisdictions in the US follow the “reasonable person” standard when bringing certain facts of an incident to the bar of justice.  These terms are used over and over again in Jury Instruction and in the civil codes of states’ statutes.

Who is Responsible for Sidewalk Upkeep?

In order to find who is responsible for sidewalk maintenance, it is important to know who owns the property, who may be renting the property and most importantly where the sidewalk is located.   In some places it is the local municipality that takes care of public sidewalks.  Conversely, in some areas, the owner or renter is responsible for public access on sidewalks on their property.  It could be either or a combination of both.


This issue alone is why a personal injury lawyer should be consulted as there are special notice provisions when going after a public sidewalk liability.  First, almost all states have this notice provision which has both a time and content requirement. Second, most states place a limit on how much you can recover from the governmental entity should your case be successful.

It used to be that it was nearly impossible for the government to be sued for any type of case, however, in the mid 1900’s the governments, state and federal, began to understand that they were entities that acted like individuals and/ or businesses and that there did need to be a level of accountability.  The days of “The King can do no wrong” were over.  That said, the government does not make it easy to sue.

The notice requirements will likely state that notice be made within a certain number of days, as short as 30 or as long as a year.  The claimant must file within the stated time limit or the claim is barred, no matter how significant the injuries might be.  This is usually different that the stated statute of limitations for a particular type of cause of action.

The content requirements vary as well from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, however, each are very specific on what needs to be said and what needs to be disclosed.   The fact that the notice was sent to the wrong office or even officer of the governmental entity could bar the claim.  It is was not sent properly, like by certified mail in some places, it is invalid.


Slips and falls on private sidewalks are, from a procedural standpoint, less difficult to bring, but there is a level of sophistication with these types of cases.  A privately owned sidewalk must be maintained and again, the owner must have reasonable notice of any condition that might be considered dangerous to the pedestrian public using the sidewalk.  Two minutes after an earthquake for example is not a reasonable time-frame to repair a sidewalk of damage, but 2 months after might be considered reasonable.

Proving Liability in a Sidewalk Fall Case

Documentation is paramount in trying to prove negligence, especially in a slip and fall case.  You should:

  1. Take pictures of the accident scene from a variety of angles.
  2. Take pictures of your clothes, shoes, and any bruises on your body that you might have received.  Do this as soon as you are able to do so.
  3. Seek out witnesses to the incident, gets names and contact information.

Documenting the scene is crucial, and so is doing it expeditiously.  The circumstances of the fall may be weather related or construction related.  The dangerous condition might be remedied the next day, therefore, it you wait, the condition at the time of the incident might be impossible to prove.



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