How Common are Slip and Fall Accidents on Sidewalks?

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
  • Holes
  • 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.

What Should I Know About Resisting Arrest in New Jersey?

Resisting arrest is a crime in New Jersey. If you are convicted of resisting arrest, you will have a criminal record that can negatively impact your ability to find a job or buy property. If you are accused of a resisting arrest, your wisest course of action is to seek the services of a skilled criminal defense lawyer who will work aggressively to have the charges reduced or dismissed. This can mean the difference between a bright future and being denied many opportunities that you otherwise would have enjoyed.

Why Do Individuals Resist Arrest?

Law enforcement officers must follow specific protocol when confronting an individual while on duty, which includes announcing their intentions. When an officer indicates that they intend to arrest someone, that individual has an obligation to cooperate. However, individuals may feel the need to resist for several reasons, including the following:

  • They believe they have done nothing wrong and/or the officer has the wrong person
  • They believe the officer is using excessive force or unnecessarily harsh tactics
  • They know they are guilty, and they want to avoid arrest
  • They misunderstood the officer’s intentions, perhaps because they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs

It is important to note that police officers can be acting lawfully even when arresting the wrong person. As a result, it is illegal for a person to resist arrest, even if they have done nothing wrong. It is important to refrain from giving into your natural inclination to run away or argue with the officer. Raising your voice and shouting threats may easily be construed as resisting arrest, even if you do not run away or physically struggle.

New Jersey Laws Governing Resisting Arrest

Laws governing resisting arrest vary by state. In New Jersey, Section 2C:29-2 describes four levels of severity of this crime, listed from least to most egregious:

Disorderly persons. An individual may be charged with disorderly conduct if they attempted to prevent or purposely prevented a law enforcement officer from carrying through with an arrest. The penalty for this offense is up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000.00.

Fourth degree. If the individual attempted to flee the scene and created a risk of injury to the police officer, the crime may be upgraded to the fourth degree. This is considered an indictable felony in New Jersey; as a result, it will be handled in New Jersey Superior Court. The penalty is up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Third degree. There are three ways in which resisting arrest can be considered a crime of the third degree:

  • The person used or threatened to use physical force or violence against the law enforcement officer or another.
  • The person caused physical injury to the officer or someone else.
  • The person knowingly fled using a motor vehicle after the officer made it known that they wanted the person to bring the vehicle or vessel to a stop. This crime carries a penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $15,000.00.

Second degree. If the person created a risk of death or injury to any person when they were attempting to flee, they may be convicted of a crime in the second degree. This penalty adds suspension of the individual’s driver’s license.

Defending a Charge of Resisting Arrest

In many situations, there is no clear legal standard for determining whether an individual actually resisted arrest. Law enforcement officers may be using subjective judgment in determining that an individual was not immediately obeying their orders. Other issues to consider when defending the charge include the following:

  • Use of excessive force. Although police officers are entitled to use force to subdue a suspect and accomplish an arrest, there are instances in which officers have acted violently when there was no need to do so. To successfully defend against the charge of resisting arrest, the individual being arrested must not have acted violently unless the officer did so first.
  • Lack of harm. The severity of the crime often hinges upon whether the suspect created a risk of injury to the officer. This can be difficult to determine if the attempted arrest was not captured on video.
  • Factual error. This is a difficult defense to mount, as the defendant is saying that the officer’s account of the incident is not true.

In any defense, the person charged with resisting arrest will have a stronger case if they can show that they exercised self-restraint and used force necessary only because the officer was acting unreasonably.

Proving the Charges of Resisting Arrest

There is a wide range of behaviors that may be characterized as resisting arrest. Refusing to answer an officer’s questions or disagreeing with an officer in a non-threatening manner will likely not be viewed as resisting arrest. However, verbal threats of harm and physically assaulting an officer are most likely indictable. There are, however, many gray areas. Did the officers make their intentions clear? Is there a possibility of police misconduct? These are some questions that an experienced criminal defense lawyer may ask when building a strategy for defending against charges of resisting arrest.

Gray Areas

In situations of resisting arrest, gray areas abound. In the case of State v. Stampone, 341 N.J. Super. 247 (App.Div.2001), a man was charged with a disorderly persons offense for failing to show his driver’s license to a police officer. The man had parked his car in a nice residential neighborhood; his car had an out-of-state license plate. An officer approached him and questioned why the man was there. The man said he was waiting for his girlfriend to arrive home. The officer asked the man to produce his driver’s license, but the man said it was in the trunk of the car. It happened to be raining, and the man was reluctant to get the license. When he did, the man returned to his car with an envelope, closed the door, and reached over to the passenger side.

The officer opened the door and positioned his body next to the car. The man then shut the door on the police officer’s legs. The officer reopened the door and pulled the man by his arm; the man cursed at the officer but then gave him the envelope with his driver’s license. The officer ran a check on the license; all was in order. The man’s girlfriend arrived home and identified the man as her boyfriend. The man then said he wanted an ambulance because his shoulder hurt. When the ambulance arrived, the officer arrested him for disorderly conduct and failure to produce a driver’s license.

In this situation, both parties contributed to the ultimate outcome; the police officer overreacted, and the individual aggravated the situation by being rude to the officer. The first time that the court tried this case, the defendant was convicted. However, the defendant appealed; in the end, the defendant’s convictions were reversed, and the charges were dismissed.

Defending Charges of Resisting Arrest

Cases involving resisting arrest in New Jersey require a determined and thorough attorney to craft a winning defense strategy. Facts may be in dispute, and both parties may have contributed to the eventual outcome. Often, tempers flare and angry words are exchanged. It is not always clear-cut what is excessive force. Our criminal defense attorneys have experience defending clients in cases in which the facts may be in dispute and/or intentions of both parties may be interpreted in different ways. When we prepare a defense, we anticipate the arguments that prosecutors may make. This aids us in building a strategy for winning in the courtroom.

Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Aggressively Defend Individuals Charged with Resisting Arrest in New Jersey

A successful defense against charges of resisting arrest requires meticulous investigation to prove the difference between innocence and guilt. The Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law are relentless in crafting a winning defense strategy for each client they represent. If you are facing criminal charges, call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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.