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Can I Sue the City for Tripping on Uneven Sidewalks?

Roots of a mature tree cracking and destroying the sidewalk

Slip and fall accidents can happen anywhere, whether inside a store, in an office building, or even outside on the sidewalk or street. If you tripped and fell on a cracked or uneven sidewalk, who is to blame? Do you have any right to sue for your injuries, or are you left to cover your medical bills on your own? Doesn’t the city have a responsibility to keep sidewalks safe for pedestrians? Continue reading for a discussion of when and how you can sue the city for a personal injury on public property. If you’ve been hurt due to someone else’s negligence in Southern California, call a knowledgeable Calabasas personal injury attorney.

Who Owns the Sidewalk?

In order to bring any personal injury lawsuit, you need to identify the proper party or parties to sue. When it comes to a slip and fall accident, you’ll need to find the parties who either own the land or who are otherwise responsible for its maintenance and upkeep. When a slip and fall occurs inside a building, the answer is usually clear: either the property owner, manager, or renter. When you trip on the sidewalk outside, the answer is less clear.

If the sidewalk is nowhere near any private residence or business, then the sidewalk is the property of the city, county, or state. They have a responsibility to maintain sidewalks in a reasonable and safe condition. If the sidewalk abuts a private residence or business, however, then the business or homeowner might be responsible for the sidewalk’s upkeep. California law allows municipalities to bill landowners for the cost of repairing or maintaining the sidewalks abutting their property.

Notably, even though property owners are responsible for keeping safe the sidewalks abutting their property, state law defaults to holding the municipality responsible if a third party is injured. A given city, town, or county may pass a law that holds property owners liable for third party injuries on sidewalks abutting their property (or that puts the burden on the property owner to conduct the repairs themselves), but unless such a law is on the books, then the municipality will remain responsible. In most cases, in fact, the municipality will be responsible. The rules may be different, of course, if the property owner takes some affirmative action that creates the hazard leading to the injury, such as if the owner cuts down a tree that cracks the pavement when it falls.

How Do You Hold the City Liable?

Assuming the sidewalk is city property, or municipal law does not hold property owners responsible for sidewalk injuries, the question then becomes how to hold the city responsible for your injuries. Suing a governmental entity is always more challenging than suing a private party. The government restricts its own liability, setting additional limitations and requirements for bringing a successful claim.

First of all, there are special time limits on bringing liability claims against the government. Most personal injury claims have a statute of limitations, or time limit, of two years from the date of injury. If the defendant is a city, county, or the State of California, however, the time limit is six months from the date of injury. There are a number of additional procedural rules as well.

Secondly, you’ll need to prove the city was somehow negligent and that that negligence caused your injury. In the context of a sidewalk injury, you’ll need to demonstrate that there was some kind of hazard (e.g., cracks, uneven pavement, or other sidewalk defects) and that the city either knew about the hazard or should have known (such as if there were several injuries in the past or other complaints). If the sidewalk defect developed recently and the city did not have time to respond, you’ll have a tough time claiming they should have conducted repairs. If the defects have been around for years, you’ll have a stronger argument that the city should have known about the danger and should have taken steps to fix the problem. The city will also be liable if the hazard was created by one of its employees.

Government liability is complex and tricky. You’ll need a savvy California personal injury attorney on your side to maximize your chances of recovery. Talk to an experienced premises liability lawyer about your situation to find out if you have a claim.

If you or someone you love has been injured due to someone else’s negligence in Southern California, call a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney at the Halpern Law Firm. We fight for the compensation you and your family deserve. Contact us at (818) 785-5999 today. These cases are handled on a contingency basis, meaning you won’t be charged any attorney’s fees unless we win.

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