Sidewalk accidents usually occur due to one of two scenarios. A sidewalk accident may occur when someone slips and falls on the sidewalk due to the presence of a slippery substance, including, water, ice, or snow, on the sidewalk. The other scenario occurs when the sidewalk is in disrepair or is extremely cracked or uneven. Potholes or debris may also cause sidewalk accidents.
What Injuries Are Commonly Sustained From Sidewalk Accidents?
Regardless of what causes the sidewalk accident, the accident can cause injuries. These injuries can be to the hip, neck, shoulder, head, knee, back, ankle, elbow, wrist, or a combination of injuries. There may also be broken bones and traumatic brain injuries as a result of a sidewalk accident. In more severe cases, there can be motor impairment or even death.
What Is DC Government’s Duty Regarding Sidewalks And Prevention Of Accidents on Sidewalks?
DC-controlled public spaces, which includes sidewalks, the DC government has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping sidewalks reasonably safe. If someone is injured while on a DC-controlled sidewalk, courts will look to whether the government exercised reasonable care to keep the sidewalks reasonably safe.
If there is snow and/or ice on the ground, the DC government’s duty is to act reasonably in removing the snow and ice from the sidewalk and to avoid having the hazardous conditions remain on the sidewalks. This means that it must remove the snow and/or ice in a reasonable amount of time. The DC government, however, would likely not be liable for someone who injures themselves on the sidewalk if the government has not yet had the opportunity to correct the dangerous condition and clear away the snow and/or ice. For example, the government may not have this opportunity while the snow is falling.
Additionally, according to the DC Code, the government has to remove any dangerous accumulation of snow or ice from a weather event from the entire width of the sidewalk, up to three feet, within the first eight-hour period of daylight following the weather event (see DC Code § 9-602). Therefore, if this eight-hour window following the event has not yet transpired, then the DC government may not be liable for the accident. Furthermore, the government would not be liable for any injuries that occur just because snow and ice on the sidewalk are naturally slippery; furthermore, not every bit of sidewalk can be cured of slipperiness (See Smith v. District of Columbia).
DC government’s duty is to use ordinary care in maintaining public sidewalks for pedestrian use. The law does not require that sidewalks must be kept in perfect condition. This means that the DC government likely will not be responsible for every accident that occurs on a public sidewalk. It is important to consult with an attorney to discuss your case and determine what next steps you can take.
How Must Private Property Owners Care For Their Sidewalks?
Property owners need to protect those lawfully on their property from an unreasonable risk of harm. They also have the duty to take precautions to protect people from dangers that may occur on their property and to maintain a reasonably safe environment for the property’s guests and visitors. DC property owners are usually responsible for clearing snow and ice from public sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses. Therefore, even though the sidewalk is public property, the property owner has the duty to maintain the sidewalk.
Property owners need to exercise reasonable care for people who are lawfully on the property. To do this, the owners must keep the sidewalk reasonably safe such as to avoid injuring people. This includes performing routine inspections to find dangerous circumstances that might exist. Furthermore, the property owner has a duty to regularly monitor the sidewalks for hazards that may be posed to those walking on them.
The owner must also repair any dangerous sidewalk condition about which the owner either knows or should have known. If the owner has not yet repaired this dangerous situation, then he or she has to warn people entering the premises about the condition’s existence.
An owner will likely not, however, be held liable for injuries resulting from a sidewalk accident in certain weather-related circumstances. For example, if the owner has not had a reasonable opportunity to clear the sidewalk of snow or ice, then the owner may not be liable for any accidents that occur because of the sidewalk’s condition. There is also a provision in the DC Code that states that a private owner of a sidewalk has the first eight-hour period of daylight following a weather event to remove the dangerous accumulation from the entire width of the sidewalk, up to three feet (see DC Code §9-601).
What Do You Have to Prove In A Sidewalk Slip And Fall Accident Case?
For a slip and fall sidewalk accident case, you have to show that the property owner violated his or her duty. You also must prove that there existed a dangerous sidewalk condition about which the owner had enough notice to have corrected it prior to the occurrence of your slip and fall accident.
If the basis of your claim is negligence on behalf of the sidewalk’s owner, then you will have to prove that the owner was negligent. To prove negligence, you must show that the person you are suing had a duty; that the person breached the duty; that causation exists, meaning that the problems with the sidewalk, such as ice or disrepair, caused your accident and injuries; and damages.
For defective sidewalk cases, actual or constructive notice of the issues with the sidewalk may be enough to prove negligence, particularly if the owner had notice of the issues and did not correct them prior to your accident.
What Does Notice Of The Sidewalk’s Dangerous Condition Entail?
There are two types of notice: actual notice and constructive notice.
Actual notice occurs when the person or entity (like a government) is told about the condition. An example of actual notice may be the person seeing the condition with his or her own eyes or receiving a letter explaining what the dangerous condition is.
Constructive notice, on the other hand, is when the condition existed for so long that a person or entity should have known about the existence of that condition, despite their lack of actual knowledge. For example, a city may be found to have constructive notice of dangerous weather-related conditions on a public sidewalk for a slip and fall case to avoid unjust results – namely, the city being able to avoid liability for the sidewalk-related accident simply because it had no actual notice of the sidewalk’s condition.
What Actions To Take to Maximize Recoverable Damages For A Sidewalk Accident Case?
It is important to take a picture of what caused your accident and injuries. This can be particularly important in cases where the scene of the accident can change over time. An example of this is a slip and fall caused by a defect in the sidewalk and/or ice. Without pictures of the scene at the time you fell, there is a chance that the sidewalk could be repaired, or that the ice could melt, making it harder to prove that the sidewalk was in a condition to cause your accident and injuries.
It may also be helpful to get the contact information of any witnesses to the accident so they can later be contacted about the accident. It is also important to get medical care as soon as possible if you are injured by a sidewalk-related accident.
Why Obtain Medical Help After Sidewalk Accident If I Feel Fine?
Getting medical help immediately after your sidewalk accident will help to document any injuries that you sustained. You may have sustained injuries that do not bother you until later or that may only present themselves if you receive medical care.
If you wait to seek medical help, the gap in time could raise questions as to what actually caused the injury. Essentially, the owner of the sidewalk may claim that any injuries you sustained were not from the sidewalk accident or that they were worsened due to the lack of immediate medical care.
What Types of Damages Can I Recover From A Sidewalk Accident?
There are multiple types of damages that may be recovered as a result of a sidewalk accident, including economic and non-economic damages. There are no caps on damages in DC, meaning that the damages you are awarded are likely not subject to a limitation set by law.
Economic damages include the more quantifiable damages. These may be medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, typically are those that are more difficult to quantify, as they are more subjective. They can include pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and loss of enjoyment of life.
A more serious injury will typically receive a bigger damages award amount. If someone suffers a catastrophic injury because of their sidewalk accident, then that person is entitled to future medical care and future lost wages that resulted from the injury they sustained due to the accident.
Damages, however, are separate from the determination of liability. The exception to this is the presence of negligence, where reasonable care would have prevented the damages from occurring.
How Contributory Negligence Might Impact Sidewalk Accident Claim?
An injured person is contributorily negligent if that person contributes to or adds to the cause of the accident such that that person is partly responsible for the accident. The injured person could only be 1% responsible for the accident, yet contributory negligence will still apply.
Contributory negligence is particularly important because it may bar an injured person from recovering any damages if it applies, even if another party is mainly or largely responsible for the injuries. An injured person can be found to be contributorily negligent in their sidewalk accident if they are on and are distracted by their cellphones, or if they are drunk or on drugs.
Is There A Statute Of Limitations For Sidewalk Accident Claims?
Claims by DC accident victims have a three-year statute of limitations. This means that sidewalk accident victims have three years from the date of the accident to sue the party responsible for the accident and injuries – so long as the party being sued is not a government or municipality.
This statute of limitations is different for governments and municipalities. If the sidewalk on which you were injured is owned by a government or municipality, then you need to file a Notice of Claim with the DC government within six months of the date of the accident. Waiting longer than six months may bar you from bringing a suit. Contact Bruckheim & Patel for a free, immediate consultation at 240-753-8222 or 202-930-3464.