In order to hold a government entity liable for injuries after a slip (or trip) and fall on a public street or sidewalk, as in almost any personal injury case, there must be negligence, but there are usually important limitations on an injured person’s right to get compensation from the local government. All state and local government entities have strict procedural rules for making an injury claim, and many jurisdictions place a limit on how much you can recover (damages) if your claim is successful. Read on to learn more.
A municipality is only liable for a slip and fall accident on a street or sidewalk if it was negligent and its negligence was a cause of the accident. Simply because you fell on a street or sidewalk does not mean that the city or town was negligent. Further, simply because there may have been a slippery or other unsafe condition on the street or sidewalk does not mean that the city or town was negligent. The street or sidewalk had to have been unreasonably safe. Then, in order to prove that the municipality was negligent, you must prove that it knew or should reasonably have known of the unsafe condition.
Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall.
The most common types of slips or trips on public streets and sidewalks are due to ice and snow or poorly-maintained streets or sidewalks. Keep in mind that municipalities are rarely responsible for clearing away ice and snow on sidewalks in front of private residences and commercial buildings; they are generally only responsible for clearing away ice or snow on sidewalks in front of public buildings or areas. So, if you slip on ice or snow on a public sidewalk in a residential area, the city or town will not generally be liable; your claim will usually be against the owner of the property that the sidewalk runs in front of. But if you slip on ice or snow on a sidewalk in a commercial area, your claim could be against either the municipality or the premises owner, depending on your state’s laws.
As in any slip and fall case, you should take pictures of the accident scene, your clothes, and any visible injuries you might have received as soon as possible (if you are able to do so). The condition of ice and snow can change within minutes. Ice can melt, or it can be cleared away. It can be difficult to impossible to win an ice and snow case without pictures showing the ice and snow as it was at the moment of your injury. Learn more about the evidence you'll need in your slip and fall case.
State and local governments are typically immune from liability for accidents, but they've also waived that liability in specific ways. In most jurisdictions, you'll need to follow a strict claim-filing procedure with the government agency that might be responsible for your slip and fall. These procedures vary by jurisdiction, but can include the following:
These requirements are applied more strictly in some jurisdictions than in others. In some states, your claim will be barred if you send your notice to the wrong municipal department, even though it might just be down the hall from the correct department.
Moreover, you have to make sure that you make your claim against the proper governmental entity in the first place. Let’s say, for example, that you trip over the remains of a sign for a bus stop, and you give notice to the city, and only the city. But if state law holds the public transportation agency, and not the local municipality, responsible for maintaining bus stops, the city might not be liable, or your claim could be barred.
If your claim is properly filed, but the city denies it or fails to take any action within a certain amount of time, you're typically free to file a personal injury lawsuit over your slip and fall. To make sure you follow the right procedure, and that all your legal options stay in play after a slip and fall, talk to an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.