Though the snow fall this winter was less than last winter, the bitter cold and the snow wreaked havoc on the roads and sidewalks in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.
The roads on major roadways and sidewalks in many residential neighborhoods have been severely damaged. Streets and highways have major pot holes, and many sidewalks have cracks and broken pieces.
Sidewalk trip and fall accidents happen all the time, and with the sidewalks being in disrepair, more sidewalk trip and fall or fall down accidents are bound to happen.
In Pennsylvania, it is the property owner’s responsibility to fix dangerous conditions of sidewalk. If a pedestrian falls as a result of a cracked or broken sidewalk, the property owner may be held liable for the pedestrian’s injuries. For the most part, determining the identity of property owners of the sidewalk in residential neighborhoods is straightforward. However, when the trip and fall accident happens in a public area, a thorough investigation is needed to determine the identity of the property owner. This article will discuss liable parties in sidewalk fall down accidents through different scenarios.
Residential Property Owners
If you fell on a sidewalk in front of a home in a residential neighborhood, the party responsible for your injuries is almost always the homeowner who resides in the home. However, if the people living in the home are renting from a landlord who is the homeowner, then the landlord may be responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. This will depend on the lease between the landlord and tenants. If the lease says that the landlord is responsible for fixing and maintaining the sidewalk, then the landlord is responsible. If the lease says the tenants are responsible for fixing the sidewalk, then the tenants are responsible. Thus, the lease will determine who the responsible party is.
Commercial Property Owners
If you fell on a sidewalk in front of a store or business, then the store or business is likely liable for your injuries. For instance, a shopper walking down the street in Chestnut Hill falls in front of a store due to an uneven sidewalk; the store is most likely responsible for the fall. However, like the fall accident in front of the home above, if the store is renting the space from a landlord, liability will depend on the terms of the lease between the store and landlord.
Multiple Parties Responsible
Sometimes, determining the responsible party in a sidewalk trip and fall accident is not straightforward. There may be multiple parties involved.
Consider the following example: A pedestrian takes his dog out for a walk in Old City Philadelphia. He trips on a brick sidewalk because a piece of brick was missing from the sidewalk. The trip and fall accident happened in front of a home. However, 2 weeks before the accident, the gas company dug up the sidewalk to make a repair to a line below the sidewalk. The gas company didn't patch up the brick sidewalk properly, resulting in a missing brick.
In this situation, though it is the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain his sidewalk, he may not be responsible because the gas company created the dangerous condition on the sidewalk and didn’t fix it. It was the gas company’s responsibility to patch up the sidewalk after the work was done. Because it did not do so, the pedestrian tripped, fell and sustained injuries.
Simply determining the identity of the parties who were responsible for maintaining a dangerous sidewalk is not enough to win the case. This is just the first step in a fall accident lawsuit in PA. The next step requires proving negligence or notice of the dangerous condition.
In all PA trip and fall accident cases, the party responsible for maintaining the sidewalk will only be held liable if they had notice of the dangerous condition on the sidewalk. In other words, the property owner had to have known about the broken or damaged sidewalk. If they didn’t know about it, they will not be held responsible.
The property owner can have notice in 2 ways:
Actual notice is what it sounds like, i.e., the property owner actually knew about the damaged sidewalk. For instance, a homeowner outside doing gardening work sees that his sidewalk has missing pieces. He knows that he has to fix it, but forgets to call someone to fix it. 2 weeks later, a pedestrian falls and gets hurt. In this case, the homeowner had actual notice and would likely be responsible for the pedestrian’s injuries.
Constructive notice is when the property owner should have known about the damaged sidewalk. A homeowner may say that he never noticed his sidewalk was damaged. However, if he goes outside to walk his dog every day and walks on the damaged sidewalk, he should have noticed that the sidewalk was in disrepair. Thus, he had constructive notice of the dangerous sidewalk.
If you were injured after a fall accident on a sidewalk in PA, you may have legal rights. Call the lawyers at White and Williams to schedule a FREE consultation. 877.944.8396