“When can you sue for a sidewalk defect?”
May 14, 2019 | 9776 views | 0 0 comments | 535 535 recommendations | email to a friend | print

In New York City, owners of commercial and residential property (except 1- or 2- family homeowners) are responsible to maintain the sidewalks that abut their property. When pedestrians are injured because they trip over a defect in a sidewalk, they can sue the owner of the abutting property for damages if the owner had notice of the defect.

In a case involving this issue, a man was injured while he was walking down a sidewalk in Brooklyn and was caused to trip and fall over a defect in the sidewalk.  He started a lawsuit against the owner of the abutting commercial property.  During his deposition, the plaintiff (the injured man) testified that he was looking straight ahead before he fell, and he was caused to trip and fall over a portion of the sidewalk where a chunk of it was missing.  This missing chunk was approximately eight inches by four inches.  His left foot stepped on the depression and twisted outward, causing him to fall straight onto the concrete. 

The defendants testified that unless they were informed of a problem, no one from their company would inspect the sidewalk for defects.  Their witness further testified that he never personally walked down the street where the plaintiff’s accident occurred, and that he would not go to the property unless they received a call that something needed to be done there.

The plaintiff hired a professional sidewalk expert who inspected photographs taken following the accident, as well as Google images of the sidewalk.  He concluded that the defect constituted a tripping hazard and that this type of defective condition would take many months, if not years, to develop.  Accordingly, he concluded that the defect had existed for at least six months prior to the plaintiff’s accident, and should have been repaired prior to the date of the accident.  He further stated that the defect would have been noticed had the defendants conducted periodic inspections.  He further testified that based upon images taken two and four years prior to the accident, there appeared to have been an attempted repair, including  patchwork, which was insufficient to correct the defect.

Under New York law, a plaintiff can prove notice of a defect in two ways.  First, they can demonstrate that the defendant had actual notice, which means they had knowledge of the specific defect.  Second, a plaintiff can demonstrate that the defendant had constructive notice, which means that the defect existed for a significant amount of time in which the defendant should have discovered it.  A plaintiff can prove constructive notice by showing that the defendant had a duty to conduct reasonable inspections but failed to do so.

In this case, the defendants allowed the sidewalk to remain in a hazardous condition that was unsafe and needed to be repaired.  This condition existed for at least six months, if not longer, and the defendants should have noticed it and undertaken a repair. 

The plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability.  Because it was clear that the defendants had notice of the defect and failed to fix it, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion. They proceeded to trial on the issue of damages only. At trial, the plaintiff put forth evidence that he sustained serious and permanent injuries as a result of this accident, including, but not limited to:  lumbar herniations which required a fusion surgery, cervical herniations, right shoulder injuries that required arthroscopic surgery, carpal tunnel in the left wrist, and psychological trauma and reactive depression.

The jury awarded plaintiff $10,400,000, which consisted of $5,000,000 for future pain and suffering, $3,000,000 for past pain and suffering and $2,400,000 for medical expenses.

If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, please contact The Platta Law Firm for a free legal consultation by calling 212–514–5100 (24/7), emailing swp@plattalaw.com or visiting our law firm in Financial District of Manhattan (42 Broadway, Suite 1927). You can also ask us questions using the 24-hour chat box on our website (www.plattalaw.com). We offer free consultations for all potential personal injury cases.

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