Personal Injury Liability for Accidents on Public Property
UPDATED: August 14, 2013
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As a general rule, if a person falls and is injured due to a broken or defective city sidewalk, the city is liable for any injuries sustained. Liability, however, does not always mean that the injured person can successfully sue the city.
Many cities around the country are protected by governmental immunity, which is a legal term that means a citizen cannot sue the government. In immunity situations, bringing a lawsuit can be very difficult, if not impossible, depending on the local laws. Other cities have no such immunity, or shift the liability to the property owner. In those situations, bringing suit is far easier.
Three Scenarios Where the City Is Liable
City A does not have governmental immunity. The city can be sued as if it were any other person or company. If a person trips, falls and breaks his arm on a city sidewalk in City A, that person can simply file a lawsuit in the appropriate court seeking compensation for the broken arm. Whether or not compensation is awarded will depend on whether the case is settled out of court or goes before a judge or jury. If the case is settled out of court, this means that City A simply agrees to pay the injured person and the injured person agrees to drop the lawsuit. If a case does not settle, a judge or jury will decide whether the man with the broken arm gets compensated for his injuries.
City B has a local ordinance stating that the maintenance of the sidewalks is a property owner’s responsibility. In City B, the man with the broken arm would identify the owner of the property (remember—the person living or working at a property is not always the owner!) and then sue that owner in the appropriate court. From that point on, events would proceed the same as in the first example. The case could either settle or be decided by a judge or jury.
City C is protected by governmental immunity. As a general rule, people cannot sue City C. The injured gentleman is out of luck. He could file a suit, but it would likely be dismissed by a judge and would be a waste of time and money.
The preceding examples are the most common scenarios dealing with sidewalk-related injuries. Every city has different ordinances and different rules concerning immunity. If you are injured on a city sidewalk, you should contact a local lawyer familiar with the rules of that area. Once informed of the rules, a decision can be made regarding how best to proceed. Be it the sidewalk or a lawsuit, minding one’s step is always a good idea.