If I Trip and Injure Myself On A Public Sidewalk, Can I Sue The City?


Slip and fall accidents are among the most common types of injuries in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. While some falls only lead to minor injuries, others can create lasting pain and hardship. When a slip and fall accident occurs due to the negligence of another party, understanding your rights becomes an important part of recovering from your injuries. Finding an attorney with experience with premises liability cases is a great place to begin. 

What is considered negligence?

The term “negligence” is often misunderstood. We tend to think of negligent acts as those in which someone fails to do something simple. One “neglects” to cut her lawn or trim an overgrown tree limb. Another “neglects” to change the oil in his car or renew his insurance policy. 

In legal terms, neglect is defined as failing to exercise the degree of care expected in a given situation. It’s often not only the actions someone fails to take but those that are taken without regard to potential consequences. The legal definition of negligence is used in connection to some type of injury or harm to another party. 

Negligence is closely tied to liability. A party’s liability is their responsibility to pay for damages. It is possible for someone to be found negligent for injuries yet not be held liable. 

How does the law approach slip and fall cases?

If you slip and fall on a sidewalk, the owner of the property adjacent to the sidewalk could be held liable for your injuries. In order for this to be the case, there must be conditions present that demonstrate negligence on the part of the property owner. 

When it comes to sidewalk slip and fall accidents, private property owners can be held liable if they fail to remove snow and ice accumulations in a timely manner. When a public entity like a township or city owns the adjacent property, they could be held liable if the slip and fall accident occurred due to poorly  maintained sidewalk surfaces. 

Sidewalks are expected to be maintained in a manner that allows pedestrians to safely use them to get from one point to another. This means there should be no large cracks, holes, or areas where the concrete is higher or lower than the main surface of the sidewalk. There can also be issues if the sidewalk is obstructed with objects or debris that led to the accident. 

Is it possible that a person who experiences a slip and fall accident could be held liable?

This is one of the more complex areas of slip and fall law. While property owners are expected to maintain safe sidewalks, the manner in which individuals choose to use those walkways can change the balance of liability. 

If you behave in a manner that places you at elevated risk of harm, expect the property owner to push back on your claim of negligence. This is true regardless of whether the owner is an individual, business, organization, or a public entity. 

Some of the more common legal challenges in slip and fall accident cases can center on whether or not you:

  • Were walking in an area normally off-limits to the public
  • Ignored signage or efforts to block off an area that was unsafe
  • Chose to wear footwear that did not provide adequate protection or support for the given circumstances
  • Were distracted by your phone or other activity at the time of the accident
  • Ignored clear signs that the area was dangerous and should be avoided

You can also expect a legal challenge if you were using the sidewalk in a manner that was clearly unsafe. Examples would include using sidewalk features as obstacles while skateboarding, intentionally running to see how far you could slide on accumulated ice or sledding on sidewalks during a snowstorm. 

Can I sue the city for a slip and fall accident?

The answer depends on the circumstances of your case. One issue involves whether the city owns or controls the adjacent property, or simply has authority to control the sidewalks of a property owned by an individual or business. 

There are even cases where a business or homeowner has primary liability for the sidewalks, but the city has secondary liability. In such cases, legal action would first focus on the homeowner or business, but you might also be able to seek and receive damages from the city. 

Does it matter when I file a lawsuit in a slip and fall accident?

As with most legal matters, timing is very important in a slip and fall accident case. The statute of limitations outlines the timeline in which you can seek legal resource. That timeline begins the moment the accident takes place. 

In general, slip and fall cases have a statute of limitations of two years. If you try to file a case after two years have passed, your case is likely to be dismissed. There are certain exceptions that can extend that timeline, but arguing those points requires a thorough understanding of the law. 

What should my next steps be after a slip and fall accident?

In the immediate aftermath of a slip and fall accident, getting the necessary medical attention should be your first priority. Delaying care can have serious and lasting negative repercussions. 

Once you are in a safe and stable condition, take steps to document the conditions that led to the accident. Reach out to witnesses, take photos, and write down your recollection of the events that led to the slip and fall accident. 

Next, find an attorney with experience with premises liability cases. A great attorney will make time to sit down with you to discuss the specifics of your case. They’ll be there to answer any questions you have and discuss your best avenue for legal recourse. 

A highly skilled attorney can help your case move along expeditiously and can work on your behalf to get a settlement that is fair and favorable. Best of all, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your legal needs are in the best of hands.