Houman Fakhimi

Sidewalk Falls

Sidewalks are constructed with the intention of providing pedestrians a safe place to walk – away from nearby motorists, bicyclist and other road users. But over the course of time, sidewalks endure the stress from heavy use and environmental factors. This leads to cracked, uneven, buckled and raised sidewalks, which can lead to slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall hazards. Fakhimi & Associates, Trial Attorneys, know that sidewalk falls are of great concern in the Los Angeles metro area, which has some of the worst sidewalks in the state. The L.A. Times reported in 2015 it had received 19,000 sidewalk complaints over the previous five years. Almost half of those resulted in no repairs. City officials said the reason was inspections were not completed or the sidewalks were so severely damaged, they required a total rebuilding, which the city could not afford. Even in locations were repairs were done, sidewalks were often patched over with asphalt, which is known as a temporary band-aid that often leaves the walkway uneven, and potentially more dangerous. Most of the requested repairs were for commercial and older urban neighborhoods and suburbs: Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Woodland Hills and Boyle Heights. Some of the most common conditions that lead to sidewalk falls include:

  • Tree roots pushing through the surface
  • Cracked pavement
  • Uneven pavement
  • Debris, such as trashcans, children’s toys, tree limbs, rocks, etc.
  • Slippery material, such as mossy vegetation, loose sand, gravel and mud
  • Potholes

Any of these conditions could result in serious injury, including:

  • Fractured wrists
  • Twisted ankles
  • Broken hips
  • Lacerations and contusions
  • Closed head trauma
  • Skull fractures
  • Facial injuries (broken nose, broken teeth, broken jaw, vision damage)
  • Neck injuries
  • Broken collarbone
  • Back injuries

The resulting medical bills can be overwhelming, and recovery could mean taking an extensive amount of time off work.

Who is Responsible?

In most cases, it is the city that is responsible for sidewalk maintenance. Depending on the location, it could also be commercial property owners, condo or homeowner associations or even individual homeowners. There is often conflict over the issue of who “owns” the sidewalk, and which party had the responsibility to maintain it for public use. Even those involved sometimes aren’t entirely sure of the answer to that question. That’s why an experienced Los Angeles sidewalk fall lawyer can help. We start with a thorough investigation of land records and local and state ordinances that may dictate ownership and duty.

Key Defenses to Sidewalk Falls

City governments often fight these claims hard. They know plaintiffs often face an uphill battle in receiving compensation. Our resourceful legal team is here to help. Some of the key defenses employed by defendants in these cases:

  • Sovereign immunity.
  • Open and obvious doctrine.
  • Lack of defendant knowledge of the defect.
  • Causation of injuries.
  • Trivial defect defense.

Sovereign Immunity – Lawsuits against government entities are often arduous matters with a number of additional challenges. Sovereign immunity is the legal doctrine that shields governments from most personal injury claims unless that claim has been expressly waived. Most jurisdictions have waived sovereign immunity for sidewalk fall claims, but it will occasionally be an issue, depending on the exact nature of the claim.

Open and obvious doctrine – While property owners owe a duty of care to guests – and that includes pedestrians on a sidewalk – those guests too have a duty to avoid danger that is open and obvious. Those with a duty to maintain a sidewalk may argue that an exposed tree root created an open and obvious hazard, and therefore, plaintiff was comparatively negligent for failing to avoid it. In some situations, we may assert here a “foreseeable distraction.” For example, a person carrying a large box out of a store into a parking lot may be foreseeably distracted and not able to watch every step being taken.

Lack of actual or constructive knowledge of defect – One of the key points that has to be proven for sidewalk fall victims to receive compensation is that the defendant knew of or should have known of the defect. The fact that there are so many sidewalk safety complaints made just in Los Angeles alone means there is a strong likelihood the walking condition that imperiled you was probably at some point reported to city officials. However, the burden of proof will be on plaintiff’s attorney to prove this.

Causation of Injuries – Defendants in these cases may try to prove the injuries sustained by plaintiff were not caused by the sidewalk fall or alternatively that the injuries were not as serious as plaintiff is asserting. Key to overcoming these defenses will be witness statements (if anyone else saw the fall) and also medical records. This is why it’s important to seek immediate medical attention after a fall, so that causation can be properly asserted.

Trivial defect defense – This defense allows the judge to decide the defect in the sidewalk was so trivial it is not actionable as a matter of law. That means the judge can grant a summary judgment in favor of defense before the case ever goes to a jury. There is extensive case law to support a pedestrian’s ability to recovery small sidewalk defects (See the 1931 California appellate court decision of Hook v. City of Sacramento, in which pedestrian recovered from a one-half-to-one-inch depression in the sidewalk). The Hook court reasoned the public is entitled to be protected against small defects, which are just as likely to cause injury as large defects. There was also the 1936 California Supreme Court case of Nicholson v. City of Los Angeles, in which the court decided even a “minor defect may well be dangerous to travel.” If you have been injured as a result of a California sidewalk fall, we can help.

Contact the injury lawyers at Fakhimi & Associates, Trial Attorneys, by calling (714) 705-6701 or (909) 859-0280. Serving the Southern California counties of Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside.