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Liability for Sidewalk Injuries

The Fostel Law Firm April 11, 2024

Sidewalks are a seemingly mundane part of urban and suburban infrastructure, but when they fail to provide secure ground for pedestrians, they can become the scene of catastrophic accidents.  

Falls are the leading cause of injury to people 65 and older, with millions of elders getting hurt every year due to negligent property owners and unkempt walkways.  

In lively locales like Houston, Texas, the likelihood of a slip and fall on a busy sidewalk statistically increases. Both pedestrians and property owners need to understand their positions in the event of an injury.  

Common Culprits of Sidewalk Accidents 

Sidewalk injuries are seldom random; they are frequently the result of specific environmental hazards or negligent behavior.  

In observing these common causes, we not only identify potential issues that might lead to accidents but also the factors that legal entities will scrutinize when determining culpability:

  • Poor Maintenance: Over time, sidewalks can deteriorate, developing craters, bulges, or uneven surfaces that present dangers to pedestrians. 

  • Inadequate Cleaning: Sidewalks may accumulate debris or become slippery with substances, posing a threat to the unaware. 

  • Construction Site Adjacency: Unfinished or improperly-secured construction projects next to sidewalks can create tripping hazards, such as exposed wiring or loose materials. 

  • Defective Design: Certain sidewalks have inherent flaws, possibly due to inadequate design that neglects factors like water drainage or load-bearing capacities. 

  • Negligent Snow and Ice Removal: Though not commonly associated with Texas, these weather conditions can create significant hazards if not addressed responsibly. 

Who's to Blame? Identifying the Liable Parties in Sidewalk Cases

The process of identifying a liable party can be as hazardous as the injury itself, especially with the parties involved number as many as the potential causes. Whether it's the homeowner, the municipality, or the tenant, each case requires a discerning eye to establish the chain of responsibility.  

Navigating the murky waters of liability in sidewalk injury cases often requires identifying the precise conditions under which the accident occurred. The parties potentially liable for sidewalk injuries include, but are not limited to: 

  • Homeowners may bear responsibility if the accident occurs on a sidewalk directly adjacent to their property, particularly if negligence in maintenance or repair can be proven. 

  • Business Owners face similar scrutiny, especially in high-traffic areas where commercial activities increase the likelihood of sidewalk deficiencies going unaddressed. 

  • Municipalities often have the overarching responsibility for public sidewalk maintenance. However, the degree of their liability can vary significantly depending on local laws and ordinances which can sometimes transfer responsibility to adjacent property owners. 

  • Contractors and Construction Companies could also be liable if ongoing construction projects directly contributed to unsafe conditions leading to a fall or injury. This includes both permanent structures and temporary hazards, such as scaffolding or equipment placement. 

  • The Injured Party's Own Negligence can also play a role in determining liability for sidewalk injuries. If the plaintiff is found to have contributed partially or fully to their injury, it could significantly reduce any compensation awarded. 

Determining liability often hinges on the specific legal obligations incumbent upon these parties. For instance, municipalities may be held accountable if it is established that they were aware of a hazard but failed to rectify it in a reasonable timeframe.  

Conversely, a homeowner might be deemed responsible if neglect of routine maintenance directly results in injury. The complexity of establishing liability underscores the need for comprehensive legal assistance to navigate these cases effectively. 

Navigating Premises Liability in Texas

Premises liability is the legal doctrine employed to determine the responsibility of a property owner or occupier for damages or injuries that occur on that property. In the context of sidewalks, it becomes a pivotal instrument both in persuasion and defense. 

For a claim to succeed, it must satisfy four key elements: 

  1. Existence of a Duty of Care: The defendant must owe the plaintiff a duty of care, which is usually a duty to maintain the property safely. 

  1. Breach of Duty: There must be a breach of that duty, such as failing to remove a known hazard from the sidewalk. 

  1. Causation: The defendant's breach of duty must have directly caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. 

  1. Damages: The plaintiff must have suffered harm, whether physical, emotional, or financial, to pursue a claim. 

The Victim's Recourse and Legal Rights in Texas

When you've suffered an injury due to the negligence of another party, it's a solace to know that the law is on your side. In Texas, victims of sidewalk accidents are entitled to seek justice through the legal system, and potentially receive compensation for their injuries. 

Victims may be able to recover compensation for: 

  • Medical Expenses: Immediate and future medical costs related to the injury. 

  • Lost Wages: Any income lost as a result of the injury and recovery. 

  • Pain and Suffering: Non-economic damages reflective of the victim's ordeal. 

  • Punitive Damages: In certain egregious cases intended to punish the at-fault party. 

Understanding Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is a crucial concept in Texas personal injury law which might impact the compensation victims can receive in a sidewalk injury case, 

The state follows a "modified comparative negligence" rule. This principle suggests that if the injured party is found to have been partially responsible for their own injury, the amount of compensation they can claim will be reduced by their percentage of fault. 

For example, say a pedestrian is texting while walking, not fully attentive to their surroundings, and trips over an uneven section of sidewalk outside a restaurant. If they file a lawsuit, and it's determined that the pedestrian's lack of attention contributed 30% to the accident, while the restaurant owner’s negligence in maintaining the walkway contributed 70%, the compensation awarded to the pedestrian would be reduced by 30%.  

Thus, if the court awards $10,000 in damages, the pedestrian would only receive $7,000, reflecting their share of the responsibility.  

How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

The legal complexities and potential for disputes of fact make legal representation an invaluable asset in the pursuit of a personal injury claim. A qualified personal injury attorney specializing in premises liability can offer you the best chance of securing the compensation you deserve. 

  • Assessing Your Case: Upon evaluating your case, a skilled attorney can determine the strength of your claim and advise you on the most appropriate next steps. 

  • Professional Investigation: An attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to gather evidence, such as witness statements, photographs, and any pertinent documentation to substantiate your claim. 

  • Skilled Negotiation: Your attorney will handle all communications and negotiations with insurance companies and possibly the opposing counsel to ensure you receive a fair settlement. 

  • Litigation and Trial Representation: In the event of a dispute that cannot be resolved through negotiation, your attorney will represent you in a trial, arguing your case before a judge or jury. 

Legal Help Is Here When You Need It

Navigating the aftermath of a sidewalk injury can be as treacherous as the incident itself. But armed with an understanding of liability and the guiding hand of a dedicated injury lawyer, you can proceed with confidence. Your voice deserves to be heard, and your claim should be pursued fervently and with determination. 

Take the first step towards reasserting your rights and reclaiming your peace of mind, secure in the knowledge that you have a legal ally in The Fostel Law Firm, located in Houston, Texas, and serving injury clients nationwide.