According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every five falls results in serious injury. Millions of people visit the emergency room each year, and thousands end up seriously injured in accidents involving falls. Although some falls occur from heights, many happen by slipping on sidewalks. Although snow and ice contribute to the risk of slipping on sidewalks in winter, there are also hazards associated with spring and summer.
There are more people outside using sidewalks when the weather is warm; spring rains can make surfaces slippery, and new sidewalk damage may appear as concrete surfaces expand when temperatures rise. Especially now, during the current COVID-19 outbreak, people have more time on their hands to go outside and walk. The number of slip and fall accidents is therefore expected to increase over the coming months.
Types of Slip and Fall Injuries
If you trip on a sidewalk, you will likely suffer minor cuts and bruises. However, it is also possible to sustain a serious injury, including the following:
- Broken bones. Hip fractures can occur if you fall on your side; you may suffer a broken wrist if you attempt to break your fall with your hands.
- Spinal cord injuries. If you fall on your back, you may sustain nerve damage that could be temporary or permanent; paralysis may result in worst-case scenarios.
- Head injuries. A head injury can range from a mild headache to traumatic brain injury that results in loss of motor skills, decreased cognitive function, language difficulties, memory loss, or even death.
In addition to hospitalization, slip and fall victims may require extensive and costly treatment including surgery, pain medication, rehabilitation stays, physical therapy, and assistive living devices. The owner of the property on which the accident occurred may be held liable for compensating injured victims for the cost of medical care, lost wages, and more. However, proving liability in a slip and fall sidewalk accident is far from straightforward.
Who is Liable in a Sidewalk Slip and Fall Accident?
In some instances, a hazard on the sidewalk directly caused the person to fall. Such hazards include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Seasonal or weather-related conditions, such as snow, ice, or an accumulation of wet leaves
- Uneven surfaces
- Gaps between sections of sidewalk
- Large cracks in concrete
- Poor construction that allows for pooling of water
- Raised pavement due to tree roots
- Plants growing over the sidewalk
- Loose gravel or other surface damage
- Objects, including toys, work tools, garbage, or debris
- Narrow or poorly leveled sidewalks
- Poorly lit sidewalks
The property owner is often responsible for repairing or removing these types of hazards. However, property owners may be able to escape liability by cordoning off dangerous sections of their sidewalks and/or marking the hazard with prominent signage.
Property owners may be held liable if their negligence directly causes or contributes to a sidewalk fall. However, a victim’s chances of obtaining a settlement from an insurance company or in court may be affected by whether the accident occurred on public or private property. Usually, claims involving private property are less complex.
When is a Sidewalk Considered Public or Private Property?
Whether a sidewalk is public or private property makes a significant difference in how a personal injury claim is handled. It is not always immediately apparent whether a private individual or a public entity is responsible for the maintenance of a sidewalk. Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their own private property. A paved walkway on the side or in the back of a house is clearly private property. However, whether the sidewalk in front of a home is considered public or private property depends on the municipality.
In some localities, sidewalks in front of a house are considered public property and the municipality takes care of the maintenance. However, in most small towns, homeowners are responsible for sidewalk maintenance, even if the sidewalk is considered a public space. Municipalities typically maintain sidewalks in downtown areas. However, municipal laws vary and are subject to change. Some cities extend the property owner’s responsibility even further, holding them accountable for injuries caused by sidewalks damaged by trees planted by the city. Liability for slip and fall accidents on sidewalks in developments and condominiums typically rests with the homeowners’ association (HOA) that is responsible for maintenance.
How Private or Public Property Affects Filing a Claim
If you are injured in a sidewalk fall, the difference between public and private property will dictate the process of filing a claim.
- Homeowner is responsible. In this case, the first step is to file a premises liability claim against the homeowner; compensation may be paid by the homeowner’s insurance policy.
- Accident occurred in a housing development or next to a condominium. This would involve filing a premises liability claim against the HOA. Legally speaking, an HOA is a corporation, which carries its own type of insurance.
- Municipality/government entity maintains the sidewalk. Many municipalities limit or prevent claims as a result of government immunity, so the process is quite different. It may be possible to file a special type of claim, but the rules and statutes of limitations will not be the same as those governing other types of personal injury claims.
In all instances, seeking legal counsel is advised. Filing claims against municipalities or other government entities requires additional research and perseverance.
How to Prove Negligence
If you believe that the property owner’s negligence directly contributed to the cause of your fall, you must establish the following to prove negligence:
- A dangerous condition existed on the property
- The dangerous condition was a direct cause of your injury
- The property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition
- The property owner failed to maintain the property or regularly inspect it
- You would not have been injured if the dangerous condition had been absent
Establishing these facts will require solid evidence. It is critical to take photos of the accident scene, particularly the hazard that directly caused you to fall, such as the damaged sidewalk, object, water, ice, or leaves. Knowing that an accident occurred, the property owner might remove the hazard or fix the sidewalk the next day. Also take photos of your bruises and what clothes and shoes you were wearing. Note the precise time and date of your fall. A picture is invaluable when amassing evidence to build a solid case.
If you fell on a sidewalk maintained by a municipality, the next step is to establish whether there is a history of complaints about that sidewalk’s condition. This is important because it is not enough to prove that the sidewalk was hazardous; you must also show that the property owner knew or should have known about the condition. If there is a history of complaints, the municipality cannot say that they were unaware of the problem.
New Jersey Laws Affecting Slip and Fall Accident Claims
If you are injured in New Jersey, you must file a personal injury lawsuit within two years of your accident, or the court will not consider your claim. If you seek to obtain compensation first from an insurance company, heeding to the two-year rule is imperative, should your case end up going to court. If your personal property was destroyed or damaged when you fell, you may have up to six years to file a claim specifically for property damages.
However, if you are filing a claim against a municipality, a different set of rules may apply. In some cases, the statute of limitations against a government entity could be as short as 30 days. Another important New Jersey law to keep in mind is the comparative negligence rule. An injured victim who is more than 50 percent at fault may not be eligible for compensation. This applies for insurance company claims, as well as lawsuits handled in the courts. In nearly all cases, establishing fault requires legal skill in collecting and presenting evidence.
Freehold Slip and Fall Lawyers at Ellis Law Hold Negligent Parties Responsible for Compensating Injured Victims
If you were seriously injured in a sidewalk slip and fall accident, you have the right to seek compensation. The law allows citizens to hold negligent parties responsible for failing to properly maintain their property. The experienced Freehold slip and fall lawyers at Ellis Law will protect your rights and seek maximum compensation for your suffering. Call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free evaluation of your claim.
Centrally located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.