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Who is Liable if You Slip and Fall on an Uneven Sidewalk?

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Posted on April 4, 2023

Imagine you’re walking home from picking up a gallon of milk and a package of diapers from the corner store in your shady, tree-lined California community when your foot catches on a raised, cracked section of sidewalk pushed up from a tree root running below. Unable to catch yourself, you pitch forward headlong with your grocery bag and suffer a knee injury and a concussion in your fall to the sidewalk. In the weeks that follow, you are unable to return to work due to your surgery-requiring knee injury, but the medical bills begin rolling in. Where do you turn? Who is liable for a slip-and-fall accident on an uneven sidewalk in California?

Liability in Sidewalk Slip-and-Fall Accidents in California

California law can be confusing when it comes to liability in sidewalk accidents. The responsibility to maintain a sidewalk may rest with a local government entity or with the owner of the property adjacent to the section of the sidewalk where the injury occurred. In California, the state’s Streets and Highways Code (Sections 5610-5618) specifies that California landowners whose lots front a public street with a sidewalk or a parking strip must maintain the sidewalk in a manner that won’t endanger the public. This law requires landowners to maintain the sidewalk as they would the rest of their property in the manner required to fulfill their duty to prevent harm to others or to warn of possible dangers. The property owner is liable for damages if they should reasonably have noticed the dangerous condition during the course of an ordinary inspection.

Property owners in California may receive notice from the city when a sidewalk abutting their property requires repairs and should take prompt action to address the danger to prevent injuries and avoid liability.

When the sidewalk damage is caused by tree roots, most city boards in California make the repair at no cost to the property owner.

Sidewalks on or Abutting Properties Owned by Public Entities

In some circumstances, liability for injuries resulting from a poorly maintained sidewalk may fall to a local government agency, such as sidewalks in front of city transit areas, city parks, and other public areas. In this case, the plaintiff must establish the following:

  • That the sidewalk was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury
  • That the injury was directly caused by the dangerous condition
  • That there was a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury
  • That the dangerous condition resulted from an act of negligence on the part of an employee of the public entity
  • That the public entity had prior notice of the dangerous condition and sufficient time to address the problem prior to the injury

In other words, if the city had prior knowledge of the dangerous condition of a section of sidewalk in a public area and failed to address it in a timely manner, they are liable for damages when an injury occurs.

A Personal Injury Attorney Can Help With Determining Liability in Sidewalk Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Untangling California’s complex liability laws for injuries caused by damaged sidewalks can be challenging. A San Diego personal injury attorney can investigate the location of the incident to determine if liability lies with a property owner or a city entity before pursuing damages for your injury.