Filing a Claim for a Trip and Fall on a Cracked Sidewalk
Posted on behalf of Lynch Law Firm on December 8, 2022 in Personal Injury News
If there are cracks on a sidewalk and you trip and fall, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries and other damages. To do so, you must prove someone else’s negligence caused the sidewalk cracks you tripped and fell on.
There are multiple parties who may be liable for your damages. Our New Jersey slip and fall lawyers are prepared to investigate your claim to determine the liable party. We can discuss your claim during a free consultation to see what legal options may be available.
There are no fees while we work on your case.
What Causes Cracks to Form in Sidewalks?
Some slip and fall hazards are created by the negligence of a property owner, such as merchandise on the floor in the aisles of a retail store. However, cracks in sidewalks are not created by property owner negligence.
Cracks often form because of the expansion and contraction of concrete caused by changes in temperature. For example, the heat during the daytime causes concrete to expand and when temperatures cool down, the concrete contracts. This can cause small cracks to form. If water, such as from melted ice or snow gets into these cracks, it can cause the cracks to expand.
Cracked sidewalks can often result from tree roots getting under concrete slabs. Trees are often planted in grassy areas next to sidewalks and as the roots grow, they create cracks in the concrete.
Poor impacting of the soil underneath a concrete slab can cause air pockets to form. These air pockets may collapse over time, causing the slab to sink down. This can create uneven spots along a sidewalk, which are tripping hazards that are like cracks.
Who is Responsible for Sidewalk Maintenance?
Whether a property owner is responsible for maintenance of a sidewalk adjacent to their property depends on the type of property.
In New Jersey, homeowners are not responsible for maintenance of sidewalks around their homes. However, commercial property owners are.
A commercial property owner must ensure sidewalks are kept clear of debris, ice, snow and other hazards. They must also make sure to fix dangerous cracks or holes in the cement.
If the sidewalk is on public property, then the local government municipality is tasked with the maintenance of the sidewalk.
One of the important questions after a cracked sidewalk accident is whether it was reasonable to expect the property owner to fix the crack and whether the victim could have avoided the accident.
Who May Be Liable for a Sidewalk Trip and Fall Accident?
The party who fails to properly maintain a sidewalk, allowing the cement to crack, could be liable for damages if someone trips and falls.
According to a New Jersey Supreme Court case, a commercial landowner has the duty to maintain sidewalks surrounding his or her property the same way he or she would maintain the main premises of the property.
Therefore, if a person trips on a crack in the sidewalk because of the property owner’s negligence to fix the cement, the property owner may be liable for the damages. The accident victim must prove the property owner was aware of the hazard and failed to address it.
To prove the property owner’s negligence, you may need assistance from someone with knowledge of the legal requirements for property owners.
For example, if you were a customer at a retail store where the incident happened, the property owner owes you the highest level of care to ensure you are not injured on their property. This level of care includes regular upkeep of the property to find and warn visitors about potential hazards.
Because government municipalities are tasked with sidewalk maintenance, these parties may also be liable for damages from a trip and fall accident on a cracked sidewalk.
Proving the government entity’s negligence is also required before you can recover compensation for your damages.
It may be even more important to work with a knowledgeable attorney in these types of accident cases, as the process for pursuing compensation from a government entity can be more difficult. The time frame for filing a claim is only 90 days. Whereas injury victims pursuing compensation from a non-government party have a statute of limitations of up to two years.
What if I am Partially at Fault?
If you were not paying attention where you were walking, or you were intoxicated, you may still be able to recover some compensation.
Under New Jersey’s comparative negligence laws, injury victims who are partially at fault for their own damages may still pursue compensation from the liable party, so long as they are less than 50 percent at fault. If the victim can prove he or she is less at fault than the other party, any compensation awarded will be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to the victim. For example, if you are owed $10,000 and are found 10 percent at fault your compensation would get reduced by $1,000.
To recover even partial compensation, though, you must still prove that another party’s actions were more negligent than your own. You may be able to prove the property owner failed to fix the cracked sidewalk or alert the public of the hazard even though he or she was aware of it. In this case, even if you were not paying attention while walking, you could argue the property owner’s actions were far more negligent than your own.
What Should I Do After a Trip and Fall on a Cracked Sidewalk?
If you tripped and fell on a cracked sidewalk, the first thing you should do is seek medical assistance. After that, you need to make sure you report the incident to the property owner or manager. These two steps ensure your injuries are stabilized and that there is documented proof of the accident. If possible, try and get photos of the cracks in the sidewalk and the surroundings, especially if there are no warnings about cracks in the sidewalk.
The next most important step to take after a cracked sidewalk accident is to call an experienced attorney.
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