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Liability for Fall on a Dangerous Sidewalk

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who reported that she fell outside a restaurant after picking up a carry-out package. The city constructed the sidewalk, but it was maintained partly by the restaurant, at least so far as to sweep and hose down the sidewalk daily. There was a crack in the sidewalk, and the caller caught her heel in that crack. She wanted to know if she had a claim against the restaurant, the city, or both.

Property owners can be held liable for a dangerous condition on an adjacent sidewalk even if the pavement in question is technically owned by the city.

More than one entity can be liable for a dangerous walkway condition.

In such situations, the restaurant will argue that it had no responsibility to maintain the sidewalk that it didn’t own. But what constitutes maintenance?

Is painting stripes on the sidewalk on the part of the restaurant enough to make it legally responsible for the sidewalk. If so, what if, in the wintertime, the business clears it of snow and ice? Or, in this case sweeps it daily and hoses it down daily to keep it clean?

The person who fell, in this case, was an invitee to the restaurant, and she went to the restaurant to pick up her carry-out order.

Suppose a customer falls coming out of a restaurant on a sidewalk in front of the restaurant. In that case, the customer could argue that she expected the sidewalk would be safely maintained.

However, where the walkway is a city sidewalk, the restaurant could efficiently respond that the city’s responsibility is to keep that sidewalk safe and ensure it’s not dangerous or defective. The restaurant could further argue that any effort on its part to fix a crack in a sidewalk owned by the city would be met with opposition by city officials.

In such a case, a key fact will be what did the restaurant know and when did it know it.

For example, suppose the restaurant knew there was a crack that could catch the heel of someone walking out of its restaurant. In that case, there’s a greater likelihood that the restaurant will be liable.

Suppose there is evidence that the restaurant sent letters to the city asking the city to repair the sidewalk. These letters would show the restaurant’s knowledge of the defect. They would also show the city’s knowledge of the defect.

Suppose the restaurant puts a sign in the window that could distract people from looking at the sidewalk. Or suppose the restaurant puts out a sandwich board sign on the sidewalk that typically covered the crack but on this particular day left the crack uncovered.

These facts will impact the outcome of any trial for a trip and fall in front of the restaurant. Consequently, consulting an attorney early after such an event is critical. Remember that there are often very short deadlines to name a city or another government entity as a defendant.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”