While many people slip and fall in icy or snowy conditions during the wintertime, slip and fall accidents can happen throughout the year, even during the summertime. There are many hazards that can cause a slip and fall, but one of the most common is a crack or uneven spot on a sidewalk.
There are many reasons why sidewalks crack or become uneven, but no matter the reason, property owners and government entities could face liability if someone trips over a cracked sidewalk and gets injured. However, liability for these injuries could be complicated, which is why victims need experienced legal representation.
Schmidt Kramer has been working with injury victims for more than 30 years. Our award-winning attorneys have secured millions on behalf of our clients. If you have questions about your claim, or are unsure if you may have a case, give us a call today. You can talk about your claim in a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.
Why Sidewalks Crack or Become Uneven
Concrete contracts and expands with changes in the weather. During the daytime when the sun is out, concrete often expands, but at night and during cooler weather, concrete contracts.
Even though these expansions and contractions are relatively small, they happen often. After a while, all this expanding and contracting can cause tiny cracks to form. When rain or moisture from other sources gets into these cracks, it could freeze and cause cracks to expand.
Expansion and contraction can also weaken the concrete base, which results in sinking. This could make one concrete slab on a sidewalk lower than the one next to it.
Sometimes the soil underneath the concrete is not properly compacted, which can also cause a slab to sink. If the soil absorbs a lot of moisture and freezes, it can swell and cause the middle of a slab of concrete to rise and be higher than the outer edges of the slab.
Tree roots often grow underneath concrete and cause it to crack and become uneven.
Can Property Owners be Liable for a Cracked Sidewalk Fall?
Concrete is going to crack, particularly in Pennsylvania where we have cold winters that contribute to contraction of concrete slabs. The question is whether a cracked sidewalk is an unreasonably dangerous condition that property owners should attempt to fix or keep pedestrians away from.
The answer to this question is: it depends on the situation. Each slip and fall claim must be assessed on its own to determine if there may be a valid case.
Property owners are unlikely to be held liable for a slip and fall that involves a trivial defect in the sidewalk. However, there is much room for interpretation of whether a crack in the sidewalk is trivial. In some cases, a one-inch crack may be trivial and in other cases a half-inch crack may be significant.
One question your Harrisburg slip and fall attorney must answer to determine if there may be a case is whether the property owner knew about the dangerous sidewalk. There are two types of legal notice about a dangerous/defective condition:
- Actual notice – This means the property had direct knowledge of the problem. For example, if the owner said he or she saw the sidewalk or there is written proof the property owner acknowledged the problem.
- Constructive notice – This means the property should have known about the condition. You might not have proof the property owner had direct knowledge, but the danger may have been so obvious that the property owner would have or should have seen it. For example, if the break in the sidewalk was by a mailbox and there was a large tree nearby, it is reasonable to expect the property owner to know about it.
You can expect the property owner’s attorney to argue the victim could see the danger and he or she accepted the risk by walking into the danger. Your attorney may counter by explaining the hazard was unreasonably dangerous for the people using the sidewalk.
No matter how your injury happened, you will need strong evidence to prove your case. Clear pictures of the crack or uneven spot in the sidewalk that caused you to trip could be vital. Pictures taken soon after the accident are best, but pictures taken a few days or even weeks later may be OK.
Evidence showing the property owner knew about the hazard could also be very helpful, along with medical records attributing your injuries to a slip and fall.
Can a City/Municipal Government be Liable for a Sidewalk Slip and Fall?
Under the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, government agencies like cities and municipalities could be held liable for accidents that occur on sidewalks inside their jurisdictions.
However, governmental liability is secondary to that of the property owner. In other words, victims often pursue a case against a property owner before a government entity. For example, if the property owner does not have insurance, the victim may be able to seek compensation from a government entity.
These cases are much harder to prove because government entities have immunity from many personal injury claims. The burden of proof in an injury claim is always on the victim, but in this case the burden of proof is significantly greater.
Your attorney must prove the government entity had actual or constructive notice or should have had notice of the dangerous sidewalk condition. The best evidence you could get to show actual notice is evidence of another accident that happened before yours. You would need to show both accidents were caused by the same defect.
You must also show the government agency had enough time to take action to make the condition safer.
Pennsylvania requires the government entity to receive formal notice of a slip and fall lawsuit within six months of the date of the incident. This does not leave much time, and these cases are complex, so it is crucial to contact an attorney as soon as possible. You should not assume you do not have a case without talking to an attorney.
Injured in a Slip and Fall? Call Today
We know you may have many questions about your legal options after a slip and fall injury. You do not need to sort through these questions on your own.
Give us a call today and schedule a free legal consultation to discuss what happened. We can explain how we may be able to assist you and discuss the benefits of hiring a licensed attorney to represent you.
There are no upfront fees with our services and no fees while we work to pursue compensation. We do not collect our fees until the end of the legal process, and only if you receive compensation.
Schmidt Kramer. We are here to help. Call us today: (717) 727-2089.