If you’re a building owner, you’ll likely have sidewalks running around your building. These sidewalks are important for movement, providing a safe path for pedestrians. Technically, these sidewalks are the property of a government entity, whether a city or county. However, there are instances where a building owner may find themselves in legal trouble if accidents occur on sidewalks adjacent to their building. Click here to know more about it.
What Does the Law Say About Sidewalks?
As a building owner, you’re generally only responsible for your property. However, in some states, you may also be responsible for all structures, including sidewalks, that about your building. For example, in states like Florida, a building owner is responsible for the maintenance and repair of all sidewalks adjoining their building. This means that such a building owner is expected to ensure that these sidewalks do not pose a danger to the public. This legal tenet can have serious consequences for building owners.
One of the major consequences of such laws is that a building owner can find themselves facing a personal injury lawsuit. A sidewalk that’s not well-kept poses all sorts of risks for pedestrians and passers-by. Serious injuries can result due to them. Among the most common such injuries include:
- ii) Head fractures
iii) Hip fractures
- iv) Ankle and wrist fractures
Most such injuries fall under the category of “slip-and-fall.” In addition to the trauma, such injuries can leave victims with mounting medical bills, lost wages, and a generally reduced quality of life.
Common Causes of Slip and Fall Injuries on Sidewalks
Poor-maintained sidewalks can cause injuries due to one of several causes. These include:
- i) Poor lighting
- ii) Dirt, debris, or leaves on the sidewalk
iii) Icy or wet conditions that cause a slippery surface
- iv) Uneven surfaces
- v) Protruding roots from a nearby tree
That’s why proper sidewalk maintenance is crucial. A building owner that regularly ensures the sidewalks are swept and kept neat will identify such issues before they can cause injuries to pedestrians.
Misfeasance vs Nonfeasance
The idea behind holding people or parties responsible for injuries incurred on their property has its roots in the concept of a duty of care. In the case of a building owner, they’re expected to do everything within reason to ensure that people don’t suffer injuries on their premises, including sidewalks adjacent to their buildings. Of course, there is only so much that a building owner can do to prevent injuries. Third parties can contribute to injuries on such sidewalks, potentially landing the building owner in legal trouble.
Misfeasance refers to instances when the building owner’s actions (or lack thereof) increase the risk of injuries caused by third parties on their property. For example, if a property owner turns a blind eye to people dealing illegal drugs on the sidewalks adjoining his building, he could face a personal injury lawsuit if such illicit activities contribute to injuries to passers-by.
Nonfeasance is when such a building owner fails to act in a way that would mitigate the likelihood of injury. Even when the building owner fails to help an already-injured victim, they could still be on the hook for a personal injury lawsuit. A good example is when someone falls and breaks a limb on a sidewalk. If the building owner (or manager) fails to call for help soon enough, this could open the door for a personal injury lawsuit if the victim’s injuries worsen.
Of course, there are grey areas in such scenarios. That’s why retaining the services of an experienced personal injury lawyer is the best thing to do in such situations.
How Can Building Owners Protect Themselves Against Sidewalk-Related Claims?
Given the potential for a protracted legal battle and the possibility of paying damages to the victims, it’s in every building owner’s best interests to guard against possible sidewalk-related injury claims.
Proper sidewalk maintenance can help ward off such claims. Building owners should ensure that the sidewalks abutting their building are regularly cleaned and inspected for any signs of damage. In many jurisdictions, a building owner cannot repair or make adjustments to a sidewalk without a permit from municipal authorities. In such cases, the building owner has to notify them of any damage to the sidewalk. The authorities can then choose to perform the repairs themselves or instruct the building owner to handle it.
All in all, a building owner is responsible for adjacent sidewalks to a certain extent. However, they can avoid personal injury claims by following all municipal regulations and acting responsibly.