Frequently Asked Questions - Who Is Liable If I Slip and Fall on a Public Sidewalk?
You are always entitled to take legal action in the form of a personal injury suit if you have suffered bodily injuries in a slip and fall. However, should your slip and fall take place on a public sidewalk, you may be uncertain as to who is actually liable.
Generally, in Florida, cities and municipalities are responsible for the upkeep of the public sidewalks. Thus, the city would be held liable for any personal injuries that resulted from a slip and fall accident on their sidewalk. However, in the State of Florida, some municipalities may have different regulations which govern the responsibility for a slip and fall accident in your neighborhood. In certain situations, homeowners can be tasked with the duty to upkeep the sidewalks on their property. So, a property owner or a municipality, or both may be considered liable for a defective sidewalk in a slip and fall case. It all depends on the particular local ordinances.
Pursuing a claim or filing a lawsuit against the state or against a municipality often has special rules and certain practices and procedures that differ vastly from other personal injury cases. For instance, you must first file a statutory notice of claim with all the applicable governmental entities. This will ensure that the proper defendant is placed on notice timely. Beyond the responsibility to place any and all appropriate entities on notice of the claim, you must also bear in mind that when pursuing the state or a municipality, there will be a monetary limit to how much you can recover for your medical expenses and pain and suffering should your suit be successful.
Furthermore, as with any personal injury case, negligence must be established. Simply because you slipped or tripped and fell on a sidewalk, does not automatically mean that the city is responsible for your injuries. Per Florida Statute, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was negligent and because of that negligence, you suffered serious personal injuries. A large standard when determining negligence against the defendant to consider is reasonableness. Florida law upholds property owners to a very high standard when it comes to inspecting their premises for dangerous conditions and correcting any hazardous conditions. They have a legal duty to fix any dangerous conditions on their premises or to warn any patrons of the hazardous conditions. However, before the jury decides if the defendant was negligent in your case, they will have consider what would be reasonable under the circumstances. In order to prove negligence, evidence must be presented, whether it be direct evidence or circumstantial evidence, that proves the property owner negligently maintained their premises which, in turn, caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Most commonly, your attorney will attempt to prove that the defendant had “constructive knowledge” of the dangerous condition. This means that even if the defendant did not have actual knowledge of the hazard, that they should have known through their duty bound responsibility of exercising reasonable care. An example of this would be if you tripped and fell due to a hole in the sidewalk where a lid or covering was supposed to be but was missing. Let us say that in the accident scene photographs, your attorney was able to see garbage or leaves inside of this hole. Based off this, your attorney may make the inference that this hole/ dangerous condition had been present for quite some time – enough time for garbage and leaves to have collected inside of it. This would be presented as circumstantial evidence showing that the defendant, the city, municipality, or property owner, if they were exercising due care and performing routine checks, would have noticed the dangerous condition, fixed it or at least placed caution signs to warn the public of the slip and fall hazard.
On the other hand, sometimes direct evidence of negligence can be found. Using the same example, let us say that the same hole had been reported to the city or property owner numerous times and there was a record of such reporting. However, the city or property owner took no action to remedy the dangerous condition. That would be direct evidence of the defendant’s negligence.
Just as in any other personal injury case, gathering evidence is crucial. You should take as many photographs of the damaged and dangerous sidewalk as possible, up close and from afar, in order to get the best and most accurate depiction of the hazardous condition. This will be vital for your personal injury attorney. It is also best practice to take the photographs immediately after your slip and fall accident. Some may simply plan to return to the accident scene at a later time to photograph the scene. However, this is not recommended as the property owner or the city may have repaired the dangerous condition on the sidewalk by then.
All state, local governmental entities and municipalities have stringent procedural rules when it comes to presenting an injury claim which requires specialized knowledge of how to exactly and correctly pursue these entities. Failing to follow the exact protocol that is required of you per Florida Statute, can set back your claim many months, have your claim denied altogether, or have your case dismissed at trial! You may also run the risk of being forever barred from making a claim if the statute of limitations runs out on your claim. These risks are too great when you have so much on the line.
Personal injury cases are exactly that – personal. So, you need a professional who is well versed and possesses the expertise to ensure your claim has the highest chance of triumph. For these reasons and so many more, it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney when you have been injured in a slip and fall accident, even more so when you have fallen on a public sidewalk. An attorney will have years of personal experience litigating against the state, city and many other municipalities. They will make certain that every statute and procedural ruling is followed so that your slip and fall claim is successful. They will employ every tactic at their disposal to argue liability in your favor and make sure the defendant is found justly negligible for your serious injuries.