Sidewalks exist for the main purpose of giving pedestrians a safe place to walk, hopefully keeping them out of the way of vehicular traffic in the streets while not forcing them to traverse uneven ground that may lay next to thoroughfares and rights-of-way. While they mostly do a good job at this, anyone who has walked any significant distance around an urban area in California knows that not all sidewalks are well maintained. So, what happens when it is the sidewalk itself that causes injury?
Poorly maintained sidewalks can create any number of hazards to those attempting to use them. Cracked concrete or asphalt can forge crevices that can catch a toe and send a pedestrian sprawling. Crumbling curbs can give way beneath a person's weight and cause a dangerous fall, perhaps even into oncoming traffic. When something like this happens, who will end up paying the resulting medical bills?
The answer will likely depend on where the accident occurs. Different municipalities may have different rules regarding who is responsible for maintaining sidewalks and other areas that tend to fall in the border area between private and public property. In fact, sometimes the rules will change from one year to the next. For example, in the nearby city of San Francisco, it had been the case that private property owners were responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their buildings reasonably safe from a hazard such as tree roots damaging them and creating an uneven surface which might cause injury. However, in last year's election, a proposition passed that now shifts that responsibility to the municipality. This may mean, in the future, a dangerous condition created by tree damage to a sidewalk which, in turn, causes an injury could lead to a lawsuit against the city.
It should be noted that the new law only applies to damage caused to sidewalks by trees. Other dangerous conditions that might cause an injury, such as, say, inadequate lighting outside a building, may still be the responsibility of a property owner. To untangle the root of who might be liable in such instances, California residents may wish to consider consulting an experienced personal injury attorney.