Who is Liable for an Unsafe Sidewalk?
If you’ve been injured on an unsafe sidewalk, you may be unsure who is liable for your medical expenses and other damages. The answer depends in part on where the sidewalk is located and in part on how it is unsafe.
Here are some key questions that will help determine who may be responsible:
- Who owns the property? Generally, property owners are responsible for maintaining their property in safe condition for those who legally enter upon it. But, there are exceptions, or situations in which another party may share liability.
- Is someone else legally charged with responsibility for keeping the property in safe condition? For instance, some rental contracts place the obligation to remove snow and ice on the tenant, though the landlord would otherwise be responsible. And, some cities have ordinances requiring homeowners and business owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes or establishments, though the city owns the sidewalk and is responsible for other types of repairs.
- Should the responsible party have known about the risk? Sometimes, timing is everything. Imagine, for example, that a severe storm damages a sidewalk. If the responsible party fails to take protective measures within a reasonable time (including posting signs or blocking off the area until it can be repaired), that entity may be liable for damages. But, if someone trips and sustains an injury three minutes after the damage occurs, the property owner likely won’t be deemed negligent, since it would usually not be reasonable to expect them to identify and act on the unsafe conditions within minutes.
- Did you have a right to enter the property? Under Massachusetts law, a property owner or manager’s level of responsibility varies depending on why the injured person is on the property. Negligence is typically sufficient to sustain a premises liability claim if the injury victim had a right to be there. But, mere negligence generally won’t support a claim by a trespasser who was injured on someone else’s property.
- What was the nature of the danger? In some situations, the person responsible for maintaining property in safe condition may vary depending on the nature of the problem. For instance, as mentioned above, a homeowner may be required by local ordinance to clear snow and ice from the public sidewalk in front of the house. But, that same homeowner could not be expected to repair a broken public sidewalk–that responsibility typically falls on the local government.
- Was a third party involved? Sometimes, the property owner or manager isn’t the only person who may be responsible. Imagine, for example, that a tree-cutting service was working in a neighbor’s yard and left a piece of equipment on the public sidewalk in front of the house when they left. Then, you went out to walk your dog after dark and tripped on the equipment. The homeowner may be liable, but the tree cutter may share responsibility, since they created the hazard by negligently leaving equipment on the public sidewalk.
Protecting Yourself after a Sidewalk Injury
Whether you’ve slipped on ice, tripped on a broken sidewalk, stepped into an unexpected hole, tripped over debris left on the sidewalk or sustained some other type of injury on an unsafe sidewalk, you probably won’t be able to answer all of the questions above. An attorney experienced with product liability cases will know how to identify possible responsible parties and use the legal system to obtain information such as whether the city had been notified of a hazardous condition prior to the injury or who is contractually responsible for shoveling snow.
Attorney Kevin P. Broderick has been representing injury victims in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for decades. He has the knowledge, experience, and network of experts necessary to investigate your claim, determine who may be liable for your injury, and build a case on your behalf.
To learn more, schedule a free consultation right now. Just call 978-459-3085 or fill out the contact form on this site.
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